About three-quarters of the way through Chris Roberson’s Further: Beyond The Threshold I got the distinct impression I was reading a pilot episode for a Star Trek copycat: a starship with a crew of very unlike people thrown together to see what happens in the mix. Mind you, the Trek formula is excellent, and Mr Roberson did a fine job setting this up, giving us the captain’s backstory in bits and pieces, and assembling a diverse and interesting crew.
The only problem is that this novel starts out with a totally different science fiction formula, also well-trod: a man from the past lands in a distant future. So we get to explore the worlds of wonder through the eyes of a more relatable protagonist. Isaac Asimov did it in Pebble in the Sky. And Mr Roberson does it well here. Just about as talky as Mr Asimov, but with more wonder and physics. How a twenty-second century explorer gets to helm a 15th millennium ship is the biggest suspension of disbelief in the book. But it works because Mr Roberson does such an excellent job with characterization, the reader wants it to work.
The good news: this is an enjoyable read. Especially if you want a nice dish of sorbetto after a heavy plate of pasta.
The bad news: Amazon’s venture into science fiction publishing (47North) has done Chris Roberson wrong. The editing is poor. The cover is unimaginative compared to the future described on the pages. But they sure want you to know the author is a “New York Times bestselling author” and is praised by another “New York Times bestselling author.” Really?
There’s a howler of an error on the back cover which proclaims:
“Welcome to the Thirty-Fourth Century.”
Nope. Sorry. Asleep at the wheel on this one. Protagonist RJ Stone experienced deep space hibernation for twelve-thousand years. That’s 120 centuries. Add that to his Earth departure in the late 2100’s, and we’re talking the 142nd century, give or take.
Call me a nitpicker if you wish, but if you’re going to appeal to sf fiction fans, you’re going to have to fix those errors. There are other mistakes in the book, small ones I concede, that a good editor would have spotted. Seriously, if I didn’t have a day job, I’d email 47North and tell them to hire me as an editor. Heaven knows they need one if they’re serious about publishing original fiction. Real editors read real books. They don’t rely on spell-check. And they don’t mistake 12,000 for 1,200.
Chris Roberson is a very talented writer with lots of ideas. My own sense from this book, and from his short fiction I’ve read is that he’s a bit undisciplined and loose with his craft. He could be much better. The final third of the book, essentially an adventure for Captain Stone and his crew, is a pedestrian encounter with religious fanatics who, in their last war, killed about a billion people. The horror of that isn’t well developed enough, and as bad guys, the Iron Mass comes off more like cartoons. There is no real menace from these creeps. Captain Stone and his crew triumph with some difficulty, but overall, it’s a pretty easy victory. The dead are restored to life by putting their memories into new bodies. That’s a problem when loss isn’t permanent and real.
Maybe that’s why the fish-out-of-water portion works so much better. RJ Stone sleeps for 12,000 years and you know he’s irrevocably lost friends, family, culture, crew, and his ill-fated mission. That’s poignant and thoughtful. Space-and-shooting adventures, not so much.