“Free Air” by A. Thackery

This book has been written with a great deal of work and creativity, but with mixed results. It is a complex meld of several themes, settings and political systems.

Basically, the tale involves a girl stranded on an unforgiving world who discovers a new data recording system, perhaps installed in the very rock of the planet. She is then swept up in the struggle of who will get to use this new technology, and for what purposes. The story’s themes revolve around the idea of different levels of existence for humans, of which the communication of data may be the most profound.

The main character’s original society is a metaphor for ours, a natural extension of present capitalist beliefs, pushed to the limit. The argument is not quite as simple as communist-vs-capitalist, but that will give you the right idea. Differing views of freedom, oppression and exploitation abound. However, often the social/economic discussion slips over the line into propaganda, and the exposition of ideas gets in the way of the action.

This novel stands out in the Science Fiction genre for its incredible depth of world-building. Philosophical, social and technical systems are so dense it is sometimes difficult to follow what is happening. The main character moves through several different milieux, from slave-like consumer society to solo castaway to moneyless utopia, each one laid out in detail.

The exceedingly complex plotline does not follow the usual conflict patterns, leaving us with slow parts where usually we would expect building tension. For example, one section describing the Garden of Eden planet is without conflict for many pages, right at the two-thirds point in the story where traditionally conflict is starting to build towards the final climax.

The final battle, when it comes, is a constant mishmash of action and destruction with little contrast, described in all its gory detail. It is a triumph of quantity over quality, but it certainly fills the novel’s quota of action and adventure.

A book you would have to read several times to absorb its complexity, especially because the author tends not to explain anything thoroughly enough for us to figure it out. Recommended for people who like their Sci-Fi meaningful and with ornate detail.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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