Arc of the Apocalypse (Book Review)
by Tobin Marks
4 / 5 Stars
I received a copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.
I was quite blown away by Arc of the Apocalypse. It’s a mix of build-up-to-apocalypse speculation, colonizing of a new world, and a hint of first contact.
Set in the near future, the earth is ravaged by ecological disaster and wars are beginning over freshwater. As such,
Humanity needs a new planet. The Magellan II is born, the first starship capable of interstellar travel. Ten thousand colonists head towards a distant planet that offers hope of survival, but it's a strange, watery world inhabited by giant reptiles.
What’s most compelling is the writing style. Marks has easy yet complex prose that is concise and flows nicely. Despite a variety of different topics, from military technology to scientific concepts, I was never confused or overwhelmed. The novel flows in an almost vignette-style though it gradually focuses on a few key characters. This helped the conflict feel universal. The fight scenes are visceral and exciting.
I also enjoyed how aspects that seemed like they were drifting into fantasy or magic were in fact rooted in a more science-based premise.
In terms of plot, I really enjoyed the build-up, but I wished the novel didn’t rely so much on a pre-deterministic view of time. Prescience isn’t my favourite concept as I find it drastically lowers the tension. I also wish there was more focus on how they rebuilt civilization than adhering to this vision of the future that is apparently set in stone.
The novel takes a really interesting turn about halfway through that I wasn’t expecting and I really enjoyed that aspect.
In terms of characters, this is where the novel wasn’t as engaging for me. I like a vignette style, but it sometimes makes it hard to get to know characters. While he was able to create discernible, interesting people to watch from a distance, we don’t really get to see inside their heads. While the story spends a lot of time on Nadya, I never felt like I knew her. Did she regret or wrestle with what her visions show her? How did she feel about these situations? Does no one rail against these aspects and refuse to adhere to the bloodlines?
And while I really liked the gender diversity - there are female presidents, scientists, and soldiers, as would be the case in the future - there isn’t any LGBTQ representation. Granted, some of the characters could have been, but we don’t learn a lot about most of them to make this determination. This didn’t affect my rating, just a note.
Similarly, plasma and pulse rifles are not the same thing (so the words shouldn’t be used interchangeably).
Overall, Arc of the Apocalypse is an engaging, at-times wild ride that will appeal to a swath of sci-fi readers and I highly recommend it to those who enjoyed Seveneves and World War Z. And Jurassic Park.