Time for another review and this week I’m venturing into the world of Sci-Fi – a genre I love watching on TV and in Movies but read very little of. Well, I’m pleased to say that this might change, thanks to this offering from Luther M. Siler. …
Luther M. Siler
August 15, 2022: the Tycho, the most advanced interplanetary craft ever designed by the human race, launches from Earth on an expedition to Mars. The Tycho carries four passengers, soon to be the most famous people in human history.
February 19, 2023: The Tycho loses all communication with Earth while orbiting Mars. After weeks of determined attempts to reestablish contact, the Tycho is declared lost.
2027: Journalist Gabriel Southern receives a message from a mysterious caller: “Mars.” Ezekiel ben Zahav isn’t talking, but he wants Southern to accompany him for something– and he’s dangling enough money under his nose to make any amount of hardship worth it.
SKYLIGHTS is the story of the second human expedition to Mars. Their mission: to find the first.
How was the story?
Engaging. The prologue set the scene fantastically and immediately pulled me into the narrative by setting the context and having a brilliant final line. Siler’s style is easy to read with some great techniques to introduce characters and sneak in factual references and information without overwhelming readers. The first few chapters create a lot of intrigue and the pace begins well with an undercurrent of humour coming through the first person narrative that endeared me to him.
The tension and interest is built well throughout the entire novel and as soon as one question is answered another – greater – mystery appears. There were a couple of chapters around 6-7 that I found more laborious than others, simply because of the amount of back story required and some detailed description of the ship, but this was necessary to set the scene and Chapter 8 brings in a fantastic little twist that I originally believed to be a result of a character’s idiosyncrasy, but actual becomes a very important plot device. It’s a credit to the author that he’s able to turn this, somewhat comedic, moment into a serious requirement for the mission; very cleverly done.
By the time he lands the characters on Mars the stakes have been raised exponentially and the so-called ‘black-moment’ is perfectly described in Chapter 12 having ramped up the pace and crafted some great action-packed scenes balanced alongside moments of revelation and increased mystery. By the time readers reach the end of the novel, all the answers to the original questions set at the start have been answered, yet Siler leaves it on a very clear opening for a sequel; with a promise of more to come.
Were the characters fleshed out and believable?
I really enjoyed reading the novel from the narrators point of view. Gabe’s casual tone, alongside his acute descriptions of both people and place, really work for the story as he tries to make sense of the various events that happen. It was a good choice to make it a first person narrative, as it brings the reader to the forefront and encourages them to theorise with Gabe, who is an intelligent and logical character seeking answers as only a journalist would.
Of the rest of the cast, some are more fleshed out than others. Ezekiel/Zub must have been a great character to write, as his megalomaniac approach and secretive streak is both fascinating and conflicting. It provides a great show for both Gabe and the reader. I did sometimes get momentarily confused by the dual references to characters – especially the Uncle figure (who was by far the most underdeveloped) and found it distracting, but that is a minor point. The crew all complemented one another both in skill-set and personality and I found their motivations for acting clear-cut and believable.
What I enjoyed most.
The Monkey. It sounds ridiculous, but that little guy brought a smile to my face in pretty much every scene he appeared. Seemingly inserted into the novel for some comic relief, I love that Siler was able to make his presence both shocking and vital to the story as a whole. A superb detail that I can only admire.
What would I have liked to read more about?
Being a sci-fi novel that was a lot of emphasis on the science behind the elements explored, which were all interesting and presented in such a way that I have no doubt it offers a glimmer into future technology. However, for me, I missed some of the character development that is usually offered in novels outside this genre. It would have been great to find out a little more about the female characters and also understand better how the revelations at the end of the novel had impacted the characters individually, forcing them to change their outlook.
What can I learn from this author?
The key strength of this novel was the impeccable pace and timing in the manuscript. This author is adept at raising the tension throughout a novel and also expanding the stakes as the story progresses. By the time I got half way through the end of every chapter seemed like a cliff-hanger and I couldn’t put it down. Part of the reason for this was that the next chapter always picked up the tantalising morsel the author had left you with at the end of the last one. Therefore, you knew the result would be on the very next page, and yet by the end of that chapter a new question or problem would arise and you had to read on. Cleverly paced and intelligently presented; there is definitely something every author could learn from this.
Would I recommend it?
If you have even just a passing interest in science then this book will hook you and keep you entertained and informed. I found pretty much every aspect believable, thanks to the smart way Siler blends science-fact with plausible fiction. So yes, I would certainly recommend it – even if, like me, sci-fi isn’t at the top of your favourite genre list, this one might just convert you.
About the author
Luther Siler was born in 1976 in northern Indiana, where he currently resides along with his wife, three-year-old son, two cats, and two dogs. In his spare time he works at a school helping other people be awesome. His favorite authors include John Scalzi, N.K. Jemisin, Brandon Sanderson, Cherie Priest, Salman Rushdie, Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, John Irving, Nnedi Okorafor, Saladin Ahmed, Helene Wecker and Stephen King.
He writes about space gnomes and Mars. His novel SKYLIGHTS and his short story novella THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES: VOL. 1 are both available on Amazon now. The second book in the BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES series, THE SANCTUM OF THE SPHERE, is available for pre-order now and will be available digitally and in print on April 28th.