A Tunnel in the Sky

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The Deep Sky
by Yume Kitasei

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted July 6, 2023

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I received a digital review copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The Deep Sky will be released on July 18. The main character is Asuka Hoshino-Silva, who like the author is half-Japanese, half-American, although I hope Yume is not like Asuka in feeling she doesn't fit into either society. There are some interesting concepts here, but also some missteps for a beginning author. It is a future science fiction story, but also a character drama, and a mystery thriller, set aboard the first extra-solar spaceship. There are also frequent flashbacks to the crew's training, which gives us a glimpse of the world as it was at that time, most of that easy to imagine considering what we are experiencing in the real world today. Perhaps too many elements for Kitasei to handle sufficiently at this time. A major problem is the science is either poorly explained, or downright wonky.

The Phoenix is a little more than ten years into its journey to "Planet X." The crew had been in suspended animation the first ten years of the flight, but it is never made clear if that was everyone for that entire time, or if there were frequent swaps of people awake to take care of general maintenance and checking their trajectory. There were bots to do a lot of that, but how about someone on hand to monitor the bots? In the first chapter two of the crew do a spacewalk to investigate a mysterious anomaly, which for some reason is not clear through exterior cameras, instead it is just a blur. There is an explosion which kills one of them, rendering the other unconscious, but Asuka is rescued. Inside the ship two other crew were killed, including the captain. Asuka was considered an alternate crew member, a back-up for many different tasks, and in fact she was the very last of the crew selected, after she thought she had washed out. The new captain secretly assigns Asuka to investigate the explosion. The flashbacks reveal Asuka's early life, the trauma of homelessness and dislocation due to wildfires and other disasters, plus the death of her brother. Some of what came after is vague, but her parents eventually split up, Asuka going with her mother to Japan. She may be highly intelligent, but how and why was she picked to be one of Japan's entrants to the EvenStar Academy, which would narrow down over eight hundred applicants to only eighty to be the ones to depart on Phoenix?

I don't know if a sequel is planned, but if so this first book might have been better to concentrate on the ten years of EvenStar training. If so, we might have gotten more information about the people behind the endeavor. Was Linda Treadaway the brilliant genius behind it all, or was she more like a certain billionaire I won't name who has been lucky in hiring the right engineers for his various business ventures? One technology that had been around a few years was DAR, Digitally Augmented Reality, accessible through a headset called a "vizzy." Did Treadaway, or someone in her employ, create that tech, or was EvenStar's contribution the direct implants the Phoenix candidates were the first to receive? The Academy did have rigorous training in many skills, not just math and science, but in certain ways it was promoted like a reality show competition. All countries around the world were invited to pick candidates that would represent them, and the more funding and promotion they contributed for their candidates was supposed to increase their chances of selection. I'm sure all were qualified in other ways, but many were famous athletes, musicians, or social media influencers. A book about the Academy could have contained a mystery, but otherwise would have been similar to a boarding school drama. All the candidates are either female or trans males. One criteria for selection is they must be willing to bear children during the Phoenix mission. All of them are twelve (give or take) at the beginning of their training, twenty-two by the time of launch.

As with a lot of other SF tropes, suspended animation is likely not possible for any length of time. One thing that is never clear is whether to consider a person ten years older when they wake, or are they the same age as when they went under? If the latter, that means all of the crew are around twenty-two or so through that part of the plot. They have sperm from donors, with the plan being a third of them would be pregnant at a time, although there are some cases of infertility and miscarriage. Is it really a good idea to have people pregnant, then children to take care of, while you are also trying to maintain a space ship? How about when the explosion has pushed the ship off course, and it is determined they only have four days to figure out how to counteract that? Plus the person responsible is still actively trying to hinder the correction of the problem. As I said above, the science is wonky. So little is said about orbital and propulsion mechanics, perhaps because the author is not familiar with those disciplines. I was reading an advance copy, and in a lot of cases reviewers are cautioned not to quote until they can check with the published version. However, I want to mention something I think is a mistake, which may be edited later. Numerous times the term "altitude correction' is used when I'm sure they meant "attitude." Altitude wouldn't come into play until they arrived at their destination and were preparing to land. They did try to re-direct the engines, but ran into other equipment malfunctions, or more sabotage. Their eventual solution was setting off another explosion to counteract the first one. The mystery of who was responsible is intriguing, but there were also too many red herrings and rethinking on Asuka's part, not to mention the flashbacks that hindered the flow of the plot. I almost stopped reading at different points, but it did pick up in the last third, helped by almost no flashbacks then.

Not recommended, although I'm sure some elements will appeal to a section of readers. I am also not saying I won't read another book by this author in the future. There is diversity of characters, not just their nationality, but also sexuality and gender expression, as well as a wide range of personality types. A lot of that is superficial though, with inadequate character development to help us know who these people are. Not enough introspection into why they wanted to join the expedition, and the reasoning behind why one (or more) changed their mind, while also not completely thinking through their actions to achieve what they thought they wanted to happen. The explosion reminded me of an early scene in the TV show The 100, where a disaffected group set off an explosion on their orbital station in protest. Hello! You are in space, with nothing but vacuum all around. Do you really think that is a wise move?


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Yume Kitasei

July 18, 2023

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