One’s Aspect to the Sun, by Sherry D. Ramsey, isn’t a good book. It isn’t even an interestingly bad book I might enjoy in a “hated it but it made me think” way. It’s just a semi-pro effort that doesn’t repay the reader’s time. I’m reviewing it here, not to be cruel or to nitpick,* but because it commits a lot of storyfails that are distressingly common. And, as any fule kno, to abolish a bad habit you first have to draw attention to it.
Protagonist Luta Paixon is the captain of the Tane Ikai, a “far trader” plying the trade routes of an interstellar Protectorate stitched together by wormholes. But that’s not all she is. Right from the start, we learn that Luta is apparently immortal. She inherited this condition from her mother, a genetic scientist who has been on the run from Primecorp—an Evil Corporation™—since Luta was a child. Now, PrimeCorp is after Luta, too. Can Luta track down her long-lost mother before she is forced to give PrimeCorp the genetic samples they want?
Right there in that last sentence is one problem with this book: The characters are continually doing things that don’t really make sense. Why doesn’t Luta just let them stick a needle in her arm, if her livelihood and perhaps her life are on the line? Because there would be no story if she did, that’s why.
Storyfail #1: Plotogenic Stupiditis. Characters should drive plot, not the other way round. If you have a story you want to tell, set up the characters so that the story progresses naturally. For example, PrimeCorp could have villainously blackmailed Luta into going to search for her mother. Instead, in the story as it stands, Luta goes haring off across the galaxy while being pursued by PrimeCorp, all based on a tip from a character whose sole purpose in the story is to deliver said tip—despite the obvious risk that she will lead PrimeCorp straight to her mother.
More confusing to me as a reader was that the level of threat facing the characters remains unclear until the very end of the book. At first one gets the impression that corporations are all-powerful in this universe. It then seems odd, however, that PrimeCorp would resort to clumsy tricks like infecting Luta with a flu virus to, uh, show her that they’re not messing around. (The virus turns out to be necessary to plot progression, natch.) We then find that there’s something called the Protectorate, which has a space navy. It’s still not clear who actually runs things in this universe. Near the very end of the book, we find out that planets have governments, there is some kind of a Council in place, and bringing PrimeCorp to heel is as easy as SPOILER REDACTED. So, why didn’t Luta just go to the police on page 20?
Storyfail #2: Expositionophobia. Don’t leave readers in the dark re: the basic workings of your universe. A little exposition can go a long way.
What bothered me most of all, however—and this may be a clue that I really wasn’t the right reader for this book—is…
Storyfail #3: Time Traveler’s Wife Syndrome. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Audrey Niffenegger’s worldwide bestseller. I consider it one of the worst books I’ve ever read. As soon as I figured out the conceit (man randomly jaunts back and forth through time) I was unable to pay much attention to the central relationship between the time traveler and his wife; I couldn’t stop thinking, “Why for the love of God doesn’t he memorize a decade’s worth of Dow Jones charts / Grand National winners / Superbowl results and become RICHER THAN CROESUS? Why doesn’t this occur to anyone else in the book, either?” I read to the end in hopes of finding an explanation for this logicfail, which, alas, never came.
This same exact problem undermines One’s Aspect to the Sun. The central MacGuffin is an immortality treatment, the condition Luta has been afflicted with for decades. Transmitting it to others turns out to be a simple matter of SPOILER REDACTED. So why for the love of God hasn’t she ever tried this before? And why, upon learning the secret of her immortality and how to acquire it, doesn’t a single one of her crew (whom she has placed in danger over and over at this point) tie her up and SPOILER REDACTED, muttering, “I’ma git me some of that.”
Because they’re not people, they’re Quirky Sidekicks™, that’s why. Quirky Sidekicks™ are never selfish or unpredictable. They only care about propping up the main character.
Some discussion of the immortality theme is attempted late in the book, along these lines:
“Most people will probably embrace the technology, but some won’t. Society will change, of course, evolve … You can’t take it on yourself to be responsible for what immortality will mean to humanity. You have to give people the chance, and the choice. What happens then–well, it can’t be your worry.”
One does rather wish that Ramsey had made it her worry, to recompense us for having read a whole book on the subject.
This book isn’t really about immortality, though. It’s about the relationships. Luta and her mother, Luta and her husband, Luta and her daughter… I suppose I might have found this less irritating if One’s Aspect to the Sun hadn’t been sold to me as science fiction.
(Speaking of which, the science. Oh, the [lack of] science. In this universe, when you hit the ship behind you with a torpedo, the rear screen lights up in a flare of white light.)
Storyfail #4: Failure of Extrapolation. If you’re going to introduce a Really Big Issue like immortality, at least think about what it might mean to people in practice. And if you’re going to have gravity on board spaceships so that people can drink endless “triple caffs” out of mugs, at least handwave the science a bit.
I don’t want to give the impression that One’s Aspect to the Sun is without redeeming qualities. It’s tightly written, pacy, and never lags or sags. I didn’t get bogged down in excruciating tedium at any point. That, ironically, is why I finished it, and why this review could get written. It’s a book, not a mess of words bungeed together. It just fails at being a good story.
*OK, just one nitpick. That cover, oh crikey, that cover…