From Darkest Skies - Sam Peters
Sometimes, particularly with a new SF book, it's better to leave things to be figured out rather than spending the first half of a large volume (sometimes of a trilogy) establishing a hierarchical social model and creating new worlds. Sometimes the more direct approach seems to work better, or at least that seems to be the case for Sam Peters in his debut novel From Darkest Skies.
Other than the obvious fact that it is set in the future, I don't think there's any mention of the year that the novel takes place in. That however shouldn't be taken as an indication of vagueness, nor should the fact that what has happened to humanity between now and this point in the future is similarly shrouded in mystery. There's a good reason for that, and that's because none of the human population in this future world quite know how they got there either.
Before they left as mysteriously as they arrived, the intervention of The Masters a century and a half ago (which at least gives us a minimal indication of where we are) has left a significant mark on humanity. As well as leaving behind technology that no-one fully understands, mankind has been scattered beyond Earth to far planets that seem to be ill-suited to the human make-up. Worlds like Magenta with 1.4 gravities and a hostile atmosphere constantly buffeted by fierce storms. Some races of Earth people however are better able to adapt to this environment than others, and it has resulted in a lot of people of Indian origin being relocated there. For anyone else, it's a painful process for someone from Earth to have to go through the acclimatisaion process.
The reader also goes through a kind of acclimitisation process from the perspective of Keon Rause, an agent from the Magentan Intelligence Service who has been living on Earth for the last five years. He's been there since the death of his wife Alysha, also an intelligence agent, who was killed in a terrorist explosion. He's been deeply affected by her loss and has had a 'living' lifelike replica made of her, almost human in most respects, filled with all the data and memories Alysha left behind. But she's not the same as the real thing, and 'Liss' doesn't know any more than Keon why she was on an underground train when it exploded. After five years on Earth, Keon is also a little out of touch with the situation on Magenta, but he's about to be quickly brought up to date.
No sooner back on Magenta, still not quite steady on his feet and still tormented by the death of his wife, Keon is tasked with heading up a team investigating the sudden violent death of Shyla Thiekis, the daughter of Channel Nine media empire boss, Eddie Thiekis. The death is thought to be linked to the taking of 'gens', drugs derived from the distinctive flora found growing only on Magenta. While their use is illegal and has the potential to wreck lives, up until now gens haven't been responsible for people's heads exploding. Something has changed, and the trail Keon and his team investigate point not only to a large-scale conspiracy, but it also seems to open up connections to the death of Keon's wife Alysha.
It takes a while before this sinks in and becomes anything like clear, but Sam Peters ensures that there is enough mystery to keep you more intrigued than confused. In that respect, From Darkest Skies is more like a noir thriller than a science-fiction novel, with shady agencies at work in a dark criminal underworld network that most regular people don't even suspect exists. As above, so below; there are forces at work that turn the wheels and have an imperceptible influence on life on Magenta much in the same way that the Masters operated to completely change the rules without anyone really knowing how or why.
There's evidently a 'Blade Runner' influence here, and it's one that you'll probably be aware of long before Peters introduces a mysterious figure ill-advisedly called Royja Bhatti. The influence of 'Blade Runner' is however also much like the presence of the Masters on the people of Earth. It's never entirely obvious and hardly any of the situations have any real similarity with Ridley Scott's film or Philip K Dick's novel, but it exists there in the background in the same way that the film continues to exert an enormous influence over the whole genre.
Sam Peters however finds his own way to work within this world, never leaving you time to get lost, but purposefully moving forward, occasionally taking time to reevaluate where we are before taking things to the next level. By the time you get to the end of From Darkest Skies, things have not only been wrapped up satisfactorily but there's just enough mystery left about the Masters and their technology for you to hope that there might be more to find out about Magenta and the worlds beyond it in future novels from Peters.
From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters is published by Gollancz on 20th April 2017
Last updated: 06/08/2018 12:22:10