Plenum (Book Review)
by Geoffreyjen Edwards
I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair review.
Plenum is a deep, complex, and fascinating sci-fi speculative fiction. It balances complicated topics with elegiac prose that serves to simplify the philosophical and often existential questions it raises.
Vanu Francoeur is a gender-neutral novice in the Kinship of the Suffering God, whose mandate is to seed new stars within a stellar nursery. Hir encounter with an exotic outsider stirs up a storm of conflicts within the usually quiet community, as well as creating havoc in Vanu's relationships with hir sibs. In protest towards the Kinship's heavy-handed reactions, zhe and hir sibs are drawn towards a dramatic resolution deep within the fires of a star, with consequences that could stretch across the decades and centuries to come. Read Plenum : The First Book of Deo to follow Vanu’s coming-of-age story in this unusual space opera.
Before we get into the review itself, this book deals with a lot of religious stuff. I’m not religious and, to be honest, I have no patience or interest in theology, so, for me to say that I really enjoyed this novel despite the heavy religious focus, is a huge compliment to the author and the novel.
The book is set so far in the future that different full-blown societies have developed based on what I’m presuming are religious exoduses from Earth. I’m guessing there are probably a bunch of non-religious societies out there too, but this novel deals with one religious order in particular and how its approach to sexuality is constricting and, quite frankly, oppressive. It’s fascinating because this society functions where there are seven genders, no traditional family unit, and children are born from external uterine machines - not something to tend to associate with strict religious sects. People live for hundreds of years and this group doesn’t have currency or even that many goods - it seems to be a sort of communism. Other communities have barter systems in place.
That’s the best thing about this novel, really, in terms of narrative skill. You are very much aware that this is a small part of humanity and that while Vanu’s actions have ripples, it’s a very very big universe. The story is mostly about hir. Regarding plot, the story is quite simple, as a lot of the novel deals with conceptual or philosophical concepts rather than story. This is not a space opera. There’s no "pew pew pew."
Yet, the characters are distinctive and have as much realism as beings thousands or hundreds of thousands of years in the future would have. This is one book that definitely does not rely on telling. We learn about Vanu, Shoshee, Joh, and the other characters’ personalities from their actions and words, which helped created realistic, relatable characters that you care for.
The ending dips more into action, which was a nice change of pace and shows that Edwards is capable of exciting prose as well as deep concepts. That section really reminded me of Samuel Delany quite a bit.
Plenum is artfully crafted and elegant, and I think people who have an interest in the conflation of sci-fi and theology would really enjoy it.
Thank you again to the author. I wish you all the best with this ambitious, fascinating work.