Review: Arkwright by Allen Steele
Published by Tor Books on March 1st 2016
Nathan Arkwright is a seminal author of the twentieth century. At the end of his life he becomes reclusive and cantankerous, refusing to appear before or interact with his legion of fans. Little did anyone know, Nathan was putting into motion his true, timeless legacy.
Convinced that humanity cannot survive on Earth, his Arkwright Foundation dedicates itself to creating a colony on an Earth-like planet several light years distant. Fueled by Nathan's legacy, generations of Arkwrights are drawn together, and pulled apart, by the enormity of the task and weight of their name.
Rarely can a book captivate me so strongly so quickly, but Arkwright hooked me from the very first page. I literally could not put the book aside until I got through the first section. It is a story of vision, aspiration, determination, progress, changing the world and it’s expectations and it is also the story of family, friendships and loyalties. It is a story of genre and evolution that includes the loss of the previous masters of genre as time goes by as readers move on and start to neglect reading the household names of generations past.
This story takes generations to tell, but after a gripping opening, it starts with a character named Kate reading incomplete memoirs left by her recently deceased Grandfather. Kate was not close to him, I’m not sure she new much about him beyond the fact that he was a very successful Science Fiction author whose series launched TV spinoffs, catapulting him to genre’s most recognized authors. The same facts anyone of her generation would know about him. The memoirs illustrate the life and aspirations of a young aspiring author named Nathan Arkwright. It outlines his life, his friends, his successes and then most importantly, his dreams and goals.
I found the beginning of the book, when Nathan was just starting out and attending his very first Science Fiction convention quite fun and interesting. The Science Fiction community turns out to have two warring factions. One is advocating the use of actual science within Science Fiction, and the other, I think just didn’t like change. Honestly, the drama between these groups reminded me a bit of modern day genre Twitter scandals. It was because of this drama that Nathan fell into a fast friendship with people that would be by his side through out his life and career. And honestly these friendships are what allowed the story to go beyond just the typical life span of a character.
He set his sights high, extremely high and kicks in motion a mission that will span many generations. The goal of this mission is to work to see Nathan’s Arkwright’s dream and vision realized. The thing is, his vision sounds much like what you read in Science Fiction novels.
Nathan’s vision turned into a very interesting tale of a Science Fiction writer who uses his money to actually turn ideas like you might find from science fiction into applied science. Namely with creating a solution to transport humans out of our solar system and colonize another planet. This project is huge, and it takes ages to develop the technology required to even attempt such a thing. The storyline progresses from generation to generation, showing the advances and struggles of completing the mission. Each generation we get a new narrator which gives us a slightly different perspective in each time frame and also pieces things together for any missed years.
I did feel like the one of the last sections started to info dump a bit more (to speed things up to get to the final section), but over all it was a very enjoyable read. This one section just felt more rushed then everything else. But the book had to get to the final section eventually, and honestly as a reader I was anxious to get there, so I don’t know that I minded too much, just felt I noticed a difference in how much information was being thrown at me within some number of pages.
Arkwright is an addictive and entertaining read that packs an unbelievable journey that feels larger and grander in scope than should fit in the pages that bind it, but it pulls it off and pulls it off splendidly. It takes the reader through the history and evolution of Science Fiction, rubbing elbows with Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke, and then beyond present day, looking towards the future and the stars for what lays in store for us next. Definitely recommend.
The review originally ran on The Speculative Herald.