As regular visitors will have gathered by now, this month's CSFF Blog Tour is about Stephen Lawhead's latest book, Scarlet. You will probably also have gathered that this blogger is more interested in science fiction than fantasy or legend. So as a compromise, I'm going to review Lawhead's science fiction epic, Empyrion.
The story begins about 300 years into Earth's future, but quickly flings it's heroes even further into the future and a very long way from Earth, thanks to a convenient wormhole. Your main protagonist is the unlikely hero Orion Treet, who, despite his cool name, is a rather boring historian. He and three others are sent to check up on the first extra-solar colony, set up by the Cynetics Corporation five years earlier. Unbeknown to them, so long has passed on the Empyrion colony that a whole civilisation has risen and subsequently fallen into a violent, oppressive and generally unpleasant state, sealed off from the wider world in a crystal dome.
The peoples origin has faded into legend, Cynetics a kind of legend, a rarely spoken name. Religion - of the worst kind - has risen again, with the people worshipping an entity called Trabant. Apparently communist block automobiles have also faded into legend.
They later discover that as well as this dystopia, a second civilisation has risen on the planet: the apparent paradise of Fierra, and so, naturally, begins a battle between good and evil, as our heroes either get acquainted with the God of the Fieri, or lose their minds thanks to the paranoid leaders of Dome.
The worlds are all well imagined, and spiritual themes run throughout the book, from the two contrasting religious societies, to the spiritual journeys of Treet and Yarden, to the talking fish, communication with which seems a lot like prayer. (On which note, intelligent marine mammals bringing a message of impending doom.... rings a bell somehow.)
The second half - originally the second book, Siege of Dome, gets off to a slow start, especially following the action towards the end of book one. It is partly concerned with Yarden's spiritual awakening, and partly with what became of Crocker, another of the Earthlings, but honestly I got a bit bored and just wanted to see how Treet was getting on. Once things got going again it was ok, but the whole 900 page volume is just too long.
And there's a couple of things that didn't work for me because, well, they didn't appear to serve any useful purpose. Like Crocker - as far as I can tell he should have just gone away and stayed there. And what was the deal with the coccoons? OK, this is a spoiler, but like I said, has no impact on the plot. Our hereos, on their way to Fierra, pass through a sort of mist or cloud, and get a bit wet. Later they get sick, bust out in boils and such, and eventually become coccooned by their own secretions. (Eeww!) And later they break out of them again, feeling younger, fitter and prettier than before. This much I get; it's a wierd alien disease they've contracted, and it works on that level fine. It also works as a sort of paralell to baptism and rebirth. Clever. And making them fitter probably enables them to survive the journey. Fair enough. But what I don't get is this: nobody mentions it again once they've moved on. If it were me, the first thing I'd be asking when I met a Fieri is 'What is the deal with that cloud and the coccons?' But no, they just carry on as if it was perfectly normal to spend days or weeks encased in pus in the middle of a desert on an unknown planet. Eh?
Anyway, that aside, I mostly like Empyrion, although the second book did drag at times. It's good sci-fi with a bit of a fantasy feel, and lots of spiritual (Christian in all but name) threads. My recommendation would be to skip all the bits about Crocker and his cat, and shave a few pages off your total reading.
And if anyone knows how to pronounce 'Tvrdy', please let me know.