Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.
Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden–a planet that Babel has kept hidden–where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.
But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.
Description taken from Goodreads. I received an advance copy of this book, to be published September 12th, 2017, via the publisher in exchange for a honest review. These opinions are my own.
I’ve read a string of books recently that had surprising elements to their premises. Some of that is my fault for not double-checking the blurb after getting sucked in by the hook; some of it is vague blurb-writing. In Nyxia‘s case, it was the latter, and it was one of the best surprises I’ve had all year.
I was initially interested in Nyxia because of the way it was hyped to mesh diversity with science fiction. Nyxia tells the story of ten teens who are chosen by the company Babel Communications to compete to mine the substance Nyxia on a faraway, Earth-like planet. Those teens are from all over the world. They’re able to communicate with each other trough technology made by Babel to transcend language barriers.
The technology was what I was most surprised by and super excited about, but it’s a double-edged sword. On one end, it’s a great idea. I’m an Artificial Intelligence and Research intern this summer, and I hope to work with natural language processing (how machines interpret and work with human communication) someday. If there was actually something like this in the works, I would love to help develop it and experiment with it. On the other hand, I have an inkling of how hard it would be to do this, and at the extent that Babel Comm. takes it, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible.
But hey, the prospect is cool, and Jules Verne and George Orwell both talked about several fantastical ideas in their stories that are real inventions that we use on a daily basis. Point is, we should all dare to dream.
What struck me about this technology, and about the diversity within the novel, was how hard Scott tried to be accurate. I first noted that when I was working with him on his Diversify 2017 post here, and he applies the same dedication to his writing. He does his best to address potential issues like words that don’t translate across language. The results come out in his writing. No, I wouldn’t say the integration of research and creativity is seamless. The world is beautifully imagined and crafted all the same.
Where I did have more literary criticism was in the character development. I liked the prospect of Babel drawing from all over the world, not just the United States, but a worry I had from the beginning was that the characters would all blend together, especially because Scott introduced them almost all at once.
Fortunately, Scott gave each character a distinguishing trait that made them recognizable.
Unfortunately, it was overshot.
I felt like I only knew Emmett well, and everyone else was more or less a cardboard cutout with a country flag drawn on it. Because of that, it was harder to appreciate the cultural differences between the characters and the benefits of having diverse characters. Plot-wise, I can see how more characters may be necessary, but I didn’t feel that there really needed to be ten major players involved. There are so many ways to execute 10+ characters well that it’s not worth naming them all, but one I would’ve considered here is the gradual supporting character development tactic of The Hunger Games and Divergent. I typically see it in bigger casts, but there are more subtle layers to how much a character is developed, and the amount of time you see them is proportional. In reality, readers barely knew Rue, but they knew her more than Thresh. Somehow, they both meant something to us.
Big picture, the sci-fi elements were good. I could see influences from other stories from the genre, but the ideas were fresh and the plot moved quickly enough to hold my attention. The ending was disappointing because it seemed to focus most on a forced relationship rather than building up tension for the next book in the series, but I’d still be up for the second book. Would recommend to YA sci-fi fans. 3 stars.