Alex Scarrow is a published author with a successful science fiction series for Young Adults, TimeRiders, published by Puffin. He also has a number of thrillers aimed at adults, A Thousand Suns, Last Light, Afterlight, October Skies and The Candleman.
There are three books, as of writing, released simultaneously on Amazon for Kindle. The first book was offered free on Christmas Day. I don’t have a Kindle but read this on my phone using the Android App.
There are spoilers in this review but I have tried to keep them light, more than the blurb on the back of a book – perhaps more like a slightly over informative movie trailer.
There are several comparisons to other science fiction works, Alex has cited Halo Jones, a 2000AD story, as inspiration. Others may mention Star Wars, Bladerunner or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Ellie Quin is a twenty year old girl living on a farm on Plot 451 on the colony world Harpers Reach. She is an average girl, shy, not unattractive but boyish in physique. Not the typical heroine from a science fiction book. And she doesn’t live the life of a sci-fi heroine. Her life is boring…
Alex has crafted an interesting lead character, she is far from a homely farm girl, despite appearances. She has a wanderlust, unlike the rest of her family. She plans to leave Harpers Reach and runs away to the planet’s capital, New Haven, to start her journey.
In the first book we are introduced to a diverse cast. Ellie’s friends: Sean, her neighbor who is leaving Harpers Reach to join the army; Aaron, a surface shuttle pilot who comes to her aid; Jez, an exotic dancer who offers her a home. Edward Mason, a genetic scientist who has put some extra work in to one of the children he has designed. Deacon, an Administration trouble shooter. The books go on to introduce us to the mysterious alien fortune teller Kazan and the deeply loyal Harvey.
While the majority of the series is written in third person looking over Ellie at times the support characters’ voices are allowed through to show how reliable their portrayals have been. These characters give a depth to the story, no one character is as predictable as the stereotype they belong to. There are flaws and foibles in the characters, making them believable.
Harpers Reach is a colony world in Human Space that is not yet fully established. The terra-forming process is still underway, though is well on the way. Ellie’s family farm has been growing tubweeds, a plant/animal that is grown to generate oxygen. Oxygen levels are still too low for people to live outside protective domes.
While the Quin family seem perfectly normal we find that the world we know has been long left behind. People no longer reproduce naturally, families have to apply for a child. The child is then bio-engineered from the parent’s genetics but the bio-engineers alter the genes to make the child more suitable for their purpose. Skin tones are adjusted to counteract adverse affects of suns different to our own. Physiques are altered to suit different gravities. And more sinisterly we learn that in some cases people have been genetically engineered to be more docile.
Human Space is ruled by The administration, a government set up following a war between Earth and her colony worlds. The Administration supposedly looks over Human Space in a caring way. In truth they allow corporations to make profit over the safety of the citizens and hide the truth about worlds that are resisting the firm grip the Administration.
Alex has taken this science fiction setting and grounded it in reality by giving us some aspects that compare with our own time. Some of the book is presented as entries in a database similar to Wikipedia, complete with User comments. This OMNIPEDIA is in Ellie’s future and the entries all deal with The Legend of Ellie Quin. These parts do not accurately reflect the narrative we see when in Ellie’s era, in the same way that our history books won’t be one hundred percent accurate. Alex also uses references to the environment, such as the receding polar cap on Harpers Reach, though there do not appear to be any native life to be affected by what Human are doing to the world.
The tubweeds are not the only non-human genetic engineering in this future we are shown. There are genetically engineered plant/meat food crops, genetically engineered pets and genetically engineered menial workers. Non of these artificially created life forms are considered truly alive, the population in general do not consider the wants or needs of these creatures. Except Ellie.
The story is partly about the struggles of a young woman with a need to find her way out of her dull life and part a mystery. Who exactly is Ellie Quin, why is she a legend hundreds of years after her death, what are Mason’s plans for Ellie and why are the Administration so keen in destroying her?
These three books are clearly one story. Both Book 1 and Book 2 end on cliffhangers. Not action packed who dies and who lives situations. These cliffhangers are character driven, some might compare them to a soap opera ending, who is the mysterious stranger who has just arrived and will they or won’t they? And as he intended, Alex had me needing to start Book 3 instantly I had finished Book 2. Job done there I guess.