A Tunnel in the Sky

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Take Them to the Stars Series
by Sylvain Neuvel

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 8, 2021

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I'm using part of the first book's title in the URL for this page, but the collective name of the proposed series as the header for this review. I may change one or the other when it comes time for the sequels. If I read them. A History of What Comes Next will be published next month, February 2, but I received an e-ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I was interested because I've enjoyed four previous titles by Neuvel, but I have a mixed opinion on this one. Its premise is interesting but hardly original, and there are breakdowns in logic along the way. The main action takes place between the early 1930s and 1961, along with flashbacks to previous times. If the second book was ready now I might be inclined to read it, but it's likely that interest will fade over the next year or so. It is unfortunate that trilogies and longer series are so prevalent now, since this is not a long book and could have been expanded to complete the story. Then again, the story may extend way into the future, so we'll just have to wait and see.

Even though they used different names before, and will again later, Sarah and her daughter Mia emigrate from Germany to America in 1932, due to the rise of fascism in Europe. Less than a decade later Sarah will have become an operative with the OSS, America's precursor to the CIA. Sarah and Mia are exceptionally brilliant women, Mia able to embed herself with German scientists in 1945, an assignment orchestrated by her mother. Under a variety of names, Mia ingratiates herself with Werner von Braun, Major-General Walter Dornberger, and other scientists at Peenemünde, convincing them to leave before the Russians arrive. After von Braun is secured by the Americans Mia's assignment shifts to Russia, with her mother joining her. There Mia works with historical figures such as Sergei Korolev and Mikhail Tikhonravov developing Russian space capabilities. Mia is ostensibly just a secretarial assistant to Korolev, but she's actually directing a lot of the research, including writing a paper credited to Tikhonravov on the viability of multi-stage rockets. Russian military thinks they're working on missiles but Mia's focus is eventual manned space flight. While this is going on, Sarah researches climate change, primarily the rise of CO2 emissions, including historical levels trapped in old ice bores.

Sarah and Mia call themselves the Kibsu, their mission to "take them to the stars," although it seems they're not entirely sure of the reasons. They know they aren't human, but they have no memory of their origin, except the vague notion they are descendend from a long line of women who have had the same goal. Sarah is the Ninety-Nine, Mia is The Hundred, their legacy going back nearly 3000 years. Another vague notion they have is that they are being hunted by someone, or a succession of someones, they only know of as The Tracker. Each generation of the Kibsu has had a daughter fathered by a human, but all of the genetic heritage is from the mother, which leads to one of the rules they have to live by: "There can never be three for too long." Each of the Kibsu are a genetic match with their mother, they all look alike after maturation, which is not that noticeable for a mother and daughter, but three or more generations would make it too obvious. Sarah's mother killed Sarah's father when he learned the truth, then killed herself, leaving her daughter and granddaughter to carry on the work. That's one of the first lapses in logic. Most of the Kibsu pick a random man to impregnate them, since it doens't matter who they are, their DNA will not be passed on, but I can't see how that's possible. Dominance of certain chromosomes makes sense, but 100% inheritance?

Other rules the Kibsu try to live by include: Preserve the knowledge; Survive at all costs; Always run, never fight; Don't draw attention to yourself; Don't leave a trace. Yet Sarah and Mia break those rules several times, most especially the third and fourth ones. In the flashbacks so do many of their ancestresses. Besides, since they don't know much about their origin, how can they "preserve the knowledge"? How can one woman do that much to advance the goal while also trying to raise a daughter until she is of age and can contribute? Those are not little, inconsequential plot elements easily dismissed. The core story is interesting enough, but those inconsistencies kept nagging at the back of my mind. Not to mention The Tracker(s), whom the Kibsu call the Radi Kibsi, perhaps of the same species, or at least from the same planet. However, their reproductive lineage is the exact opposite, using a female human to gestate, but all genetic inheritance is from the father, and each generation of Trackers consists of four identical brothers. Their mission seems to be to retrieve a device, perhaps a communicator, from the Kibsu, even though Sarah has no information about that to reveal, even under torture.

The story starts strong but flounders along the way. I'm rating it just 3 stars. It ends in 1961 with the flight of Yuri Gargarin, and Mia expecting a daughter, whom she plans to name Lola. 101a, get it? Yes, I would like to know "what comes next," but my interest in the sequels is low at this time.


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Sylvain Neuvel

February 2, 2021

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