Ahoy there mateys. A story of space, mystical objects, and flying . . .
the pilots of borealis (David Nabhan)
I picked up this novel because it involves human flying and racing with artificial wings on the Moon – otherwise known as piloting. I had recently re-read a favorite, Windhaven by George R. R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle which involves piloting. The idea of humans flying has always appealed to me and here we have a book that involves humans flying in space. Super cool, so I gave it a shot.
This novel was hard to get into at first. In addition to the piloting, the main storyline involves the concept of “energy, and the things people will do to have it and to keep it for themselves.” The beginning dealt with not only the history of how humans got to the current political situation but also some philosophical discussions of the differences between the peoples living on the Earth, the Terra Ring, and the Moon. The story also somewhat disjointedly switches from the past to the present. While it did add flavor and set the stage for the novel’s current events, I couldn’t help but want to get back to the story of the main character, Clinton Rittener.
Clinton Rittener is a space pirate, rogue, killer, hardened man, hero, and above all an intelligent opportunist. He is the heart of the novel and much of its appeal. Frankly, I wish there had been more of Clinton in it. The novel quickly became fascinating once the “real action” with him commences.
Some of the fascination for me was the author’s use of historical facts and phrases. I love when new words and ideas lead me to researching items on the interwebs. Here are two of my favorites from this novel:
amanuensis [uh-man-yoo-en-sis] – a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another; secretary. Word Origin – “one who takes dictation,” 1610s, from Latin amanuensis “adjective used as a noun,” from servus a manu “secretary,” literally “servant from the hand,” from a “from” + manu, ablative of manus “hand.” source
auto-de-fé – An auto-da-fé or auto-de-fé (from Portuguese auto da fé, meaning “act of faith”) was the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Spanish Inquisition, Portuguese Inquisition or the Mexican Inquisition had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed. source
Regular readers may remember my dislike of physics. Chemistry on the other hand is another story. I loved it and voluntarily took Chem II back in high school as an elective. Chemistry makes sense. However, since those long ago days, I have not been up to date in chemistry news. Several days ago I happened upon a picture of the first period table while doing art research for the blog:
This picture made me delightfully happy. Then yesterday this novel lead me to two more chemistry facts of delight that either Chem II didn’t cover or I blatantly forgot. So I will share:
Transuranium elements (also known as transuranic elements) are the chemical elements with atomic numbers greater than 92 (the atomic number of uranium). All of these elements are unstable and decay radioactively into other elements. source
Mysterious Periodic Element 137 – Feynmanium is the fabricated name of a theoretical element with the symbol Fy and atomic number 137. This element is known in the scientific literature as untriseptium (Uts), or simply element 137. source. There is some question about this element spelling the end of the periodic table. For discussion of this concept visit Column: The crucible. source
Not only did I get new facts and a great protagonist, this novel ended with a bang. Let’s just say the ending was so unexpected I had to stop, blink, and reread passages at the end in a kind of disbelief. This novel is definitely worth reading but may make you angry by its ending.
From The Big Idea on author John Scalzi’s blog with “Authors explaining the the big ideas behind their latest works, in their own words,” Mr. Nabhan has this to say about the book:
The Pilots of Borealis doesn’t take up the story here though. It picks up after the horrific wreckage of four Petroleum Wars. It’s the twenty-fifth century, and gasoline is useless and primitive. Humans haven’t changed much, even though their civilizations now stretch out to Titan. And instead of clashing arms over earth-bound material, the sabers are now rattling for a resource that is running low, one that feeds the countless fusion reactors that make everything go, from the Alliances on Earth, to the Jovian Colonies and further: Helium-3. Infused into the regolith of the Moon, this rare commodity now spawns a ruthless death struggle between the great powers, desperate to protect what they consider is their rightful share.
To read more of The Big Idea about the book visit:
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