Rejoice, A Knife to the Heart

I was pleased when I learned that Steven Erikson fans would be getting two science fiction titles from the author in 2018. With the Kharkanas trilogy on hold due to poor sales and the Witness trilogy still in production, there would be no Malazan offering this year, so I was looking forward to these two novels.

The Willful Child installments, as fun to read as they are, remain Star Trek spoofs, an homage showcasing Erikson's sense of humor and his love for the TV series. But they're not real science fiction fare, so to speak. Rejoice, A Knife to the Heart, on the other hand, felt like it would be the author's first true foray into the genre.

And yet, there were issues that promised to be problematic. A First Contact tale without contact? An alien arrival story without any aliens? It appeared that Rejoice, A Knife to the Heart would be unlike any other scifi yarns on the market. This probably explains why it's being published by an imprint not known for releasing SFF titles, which implies that most speculative fiction publishers elected to pass on it. Still, I was curious and wanted to discover what Erikson had in store for his readers.

Here's the blurb:

Imagine a First Contact without contact, and an alien arrival where no aliens show up.

Imagine the sudden appearance of exclusion zones all over the planet, into which no humans are allowed. Imagine an end to all violence, from the schoolyard bully to nations at war. Imagine an end to borders, an end to all crime. Imagine a world where hate has no outlet and the only harm one can do is to oneself.

Leaders of governments are not in the loop. Scientists have no answers. The military’s hardware has stopped working. We’re calling, but ET’s not answering.

Imagine a world transformed, but with no guidance and no hint of what’s coming next. What would you do? How would you feel? What questions can you ask – what questions dare you ask – when the only possible answers come from the all-too-human face in your mirror?

On the day of First Contact, it won’t be about them. It will be about us.

For his first full-length science fiction novel, Steven Erikson decided to take on one of the genre's biggest and most popular trope; first contact. But the angle he elected to use to explore this cliché is totally new and unheard of. Many a Malazan fan keep hoping for the Bridgeburners in space, yet it's obvious that the author has no desire to write that sort of book. At least for the time being. Rejoice, A Knife to the Heart is a world away from that sort of space opera blockbuster yarn. This is more of an old school throught-provoking novel, something akin to the type of titles published in the golden age era of science fiction. Which is why this work may not appeal to a big chunk of author's readership. It's completely different from anything else Erikson has written in the past. The closest thing to it would have to be The Devil Delivered novella and I get the feeling that few Malazan aficionados have read it.

The story begins with the abduction in broad daylight of Canadian scifi writer Samantha August by aliens. Due to her literary and political background, the woman was selected by an artificial intelligence representing mysterious alien civilizations to be mankind's representative for what's coming. Known as Adam, while she considers the aliens' offer the AI puts into motion measures meant to save the planet and its ecosystems from humanity and its destructive ways. One of the core concepts of the novel is that violence against others, in any shape or form, becomes virtually impossible. While intriguing, this takes away any possible tension and prevents the story from gaining any momentum. Food and water are provided to anyone who can't get them. The world's natural resources are now protected. A clean energy source is provided and so is space-age technology to all countries which couldn't afford such a thing in the past. Borders become meaningless, and the socio-political tapestry that held the world together gradually unravels.

Rejoice, A Knife to the Heart is a novel that asks the difficult questions. This work explores thought-provoking themes such as post-scarcity society, post-capitalism, climate change, the importance of religions and spirituality, the planet as a living and breathing entity, and many more. The main problem is that, with the absence of any kind of tension, the story progresses through a variety of philosophical discussions between the main characters. The book features a decidedly diverse and disparate cast, but none of them other than Samantha August really stand out. There are fictional analogs to public figures such as Donald Trump, Elon Musk, and the Koch Brothers. Oddly enough, Justin Trudeau, our schoolboy PM big on symbolism and low on substance, has been replaced by a no-nonsense woman. Putin has been replaced by a wise old wolf and so has the Chinese head of state. The UN Secretary-General is straight out of the Expanse. Sadly, the characterization was often a bit subpar. Especially where the world leaders are concerned.

The aliens' main objective is to save the planet from mankind. But they also wish to spare humanity for a reason, one that takes a while to become apparent. But it does elevate the story to another level when it does. The Chinese mission to the moon is a particularly powerful sequence in that regard. Overall, Rejoice, A Knife to the Heart is a very optimistic work. It exposes all the darker elements of our world and how they affect each and everyone of us, and suggests that mankind, by uniting regardless of race, creed, nationality, yada yada yada, could overcome all these man-made barriers and become something more. To a certain extent, it's exactly the sort of scifi novel that "the future that liberals want" crowd yearns for. Having said that, more cynical readers may find it much harder to get into.

In the end, space opera fans into authors such as Peter F. Hamilton, James S. A. Corey, Ian McDonald, and Alastair Reynolds might find this one extremely slow-moving and somewhat boring. But for readers interested in science fiction that is not afraid to ask the hard questions and which explores big ideas and concepts, Rejoice, A Knife to the Heart will definitely be an interesting read.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

6 commentaires:

Fred said...

Thanks! I was wondering if Erikson could be a good scifi writer as well (I don't like goofy stuff in my scifi books). Also, you have mentioned three names that I like a lot but never read any Ian McDonald books, it's similar to the three others? Reynolds is my favorite scifi author, followed by Morgan/Corey/Hamilton as the same level. I'm mostly looking for post-cyberpunk à la Morgan / Ultras of Reynolds.

Patrick said...

@Fred: Oh shit! Get yourself River of Gods or The Dervish House and be merry! Brasyl was also very good. Ian McDonald is the shit! =)

DontDriveAngry said...

From merely reading the cover-blurb, this appears akin to Childhood's End- do you have any thoughts with that novel in mind? Would a fan of that enjoy this or would they consider it an imitation/knockoff? Thanks!

Patrick said...

Haven't read Childhood's End, so I can't really say. None of the reviews I've read mention that novel, so I reckon it's no imitation.

Fred said...

Thanks Pat, on it! I'm currently finishing Pushing Ice. Is McDonald difficult to read for a french-canadian like me?

Patrick said...

Si tu aimes Reynolds, Hamilton, Morgan, Corey, etc, McDonald ne te donnera pas de problème!

Bonne lecture! =)