Irradiance by David Bruns
I’ve been looking for a self-published/indie novel that could break through the relative malaise in the sci fi market. If you check the best sellers lists, you’ll find numerous classics along with a few titles that are several years old. Nothing from the past year or two has been able to really get much attention. Irradiance by David Bruns was recommended by Goodreads. After reading the premise and a couple reviews, I was hopeful. Unfortunately, the dystopian novel just doesn’t deliver. While it has some good moments and a few good ideas, it spends too much time laying the foundation for the series rather than trying to be a good novel in its own right.
Maribel is a young astronomer living in a telepathically-linked totalitarian society on a planet called Sindra, sometime in the future. All citizens are required to communicate telepathically through a crystal implant placed on their forehead. The crystal is also a mood ring, changes color depending on feelings of the wearer. Maribel and her partner Reese get two children, both genetically engineered and birthed via surrogates or some kind of in vitro system (Maribel did not carry them). As time passes, Maribel discovers an awful truth: the sun is reaching the end of its life cycle. The world is coming to an end and they must escape with their children to a new world.
For a young adult audience, there is some good action and interesting main characters. It has the feel of a TV pilot, laying a lot of the plot elements out, trying to get you hooked for the next episode. The author wants to get you interested in the Dream Guild Chronicles series, but, in my opinion, did not focus enough time on making a quality pilot episode. Maribel is the only character that gets any development, while the rest were fairly one-dimensional. The ending was also too open ended, leaving a little too much for the next novel.
The premise and summary seem pretty straightforward in terms of a dystopian drama but the novel tries to develop a number of themes simultaneously. For example, the personal and societal impact of telepathic communication. The crystal telepathy is explored in places but not with much depth. It also felt at times as if the characters cannot read the crystal colors or sense anything from one another. Characters routinely lie or conceal the truth despite this new ability.
The primary conflict of the book wasn’t touched on very often. At times, it seemed the characters were forgetting the biggest revelation of the whole book: their world is ending!!! Everything they know is going to die, yet they are largely preoccupied by their personal lives, careers, and avoiding scrutiny from the government. Their ultimate plan for escaping Sindra and finding a new home is cobbled together quickly and is executed with surprising ease. It was difficult to believe such subversive acts could be done in a telepathic totalitarian society.
As for the dystopian society, the author borrows heavily from The Giver with some bits taken from Logan’s Run. I love dystopian fiction but am always disappointed when an author chooses to copy and paste previous established bad societies, then avoid the social commentary or philosophical discussions.
A little subtlety would’ve helped as well, rather than a clear black versus white conflict. The good guys are smart, compassionate and attractive while the bad guys are stupid, malicious, and ugly. Also, for some reason, they do everything themselves, without any henchmen, guards, soldiers, etc.
Young adult dystopias have been in all the rage for nearly a decade now but most have failed to make an impression. Personally, I prefer dystopian fiction that has some social commentary and unique thought-provoking elements. YA fiction tends to have neither. Still, there is no denying that some titles have had significant success. I guess I am just not the intended audience.
Younger readers who love the subgenre might enjoy the book a lot more than I did. The telepathic crystals is an interesting element that might hook a few more into reading the sequel. At the same time, I think the underwhelming ending and lack of character development might discourage some young readers from continuing on to the sequel.
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