Tuesday 12 April 2016

Book Review | Long Dark Dusk by J. P. Smythe

The moment she learned the horrible truth about her life on Australia, the derelict ship overrun with violent gangs, Chan Aitch made it her mission to save everyone she could from their fate worse than death. But her efforts were in vain. Now, everyone she cares about is dead or in prison, and Chan is more alone than ever before.

As the only person to have escaped Australia's terrible crash-landing back to Earth, Chan is now living in poverty on the fringes of a huge city. She believes Mae, the little girl she once rescued on the Australia, is still alive—but she has no idea where Mae is, or how to find her. Everything on Earth is strange and new, and Chan has never felt more lost.

But she'll do whatever it takes to find Mae, even if it means going to prison herself. She's broken out of prison before. How hard could it be to do it again?


Having horrified and amazed readers in equal measure across the first two volumes of The Anomaly Quartet, and doubled down on darkly character-focused dystopia in The Testament, The Machine and latterly No Harm Can Come to a Good Man, James P. Smythe has gone from strength to strength since his underrated debut in 2010. In so doing, he's demonstrated that he's not just a jack but a master of all the trades he's tried—a mastery that, on the back of last year's Way Down Dark, evidently extends to the young adult market.

Book the first of The Australia Trilogy read, as I said, "like a lesson in how to bring your fiction to a more sensitive sector without sacrificing the parts that made it remarkable." It didn't talk down to its audience. It didn't diminish the darker parts of its narrative. It didn't hold back in any measurable sense.

To discuss Long Dark Dusk, nor can I. I have to hit on what happened in the last act of Way Down Dark. I have to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the Australia.

The thousand-some souls aboard the Australia believed it to be a generation ship blazing a trail through space in search of a world where humanity, having bled Earth dead, might put down renewed roots. They were wrong. In actual fact, the Australia was a prison ship in stationary orbit around the very planet its inhabitants thought they'd left so long ago; a planet, ravaged but not ruined by environmental catastrophe, whose people, roughly a hundred years hence, see that positively apocalyptic period as little more than a bump in the road. As an embarrassment, even.

To wit, when Way Down Dark's central character Chan managed to crash-land the ailing Australia just outside of walled-off Washington, she and the scant other survivors of the disaster weren't exactly welcomed:
I was meant to step off the ship, having saved the lives of the people I cared about, the good people who did nothing wrong, who didn't deserve the fate—the curse—that had been put upon them. I was meant to look back at everything I had lost—my mother; my childhood; even Agatha, so recently departed—and still see something resembling the future I had dreamt of. Mae would be there and we would be a family. Family is what you make it; that's something I learned. It's not blood. It runs deeper than that, and stronger.
That's how it was meant to go.
But it didn't. (p.105)