Years of violence, corruption, and intolerance have left Earth’s civilization on the brink of collapse. In response, an international coalition of governments and private entities launches a secret mission. The mission’s goal is to create a self-sustaining colony on Mars, and the stakes could not be higher.
SI Clarke’s novel is the first of a planned series. It begins with the crew selection process and ends with scenes of life on Mars as experienced by the advance team. The mission planning and character introductions in Devon’s Island left me itching to read the next book.
Clarke has taken on a huge task with the laundry list of characters in this book. Characters take turns with first person narration of each chapter, and I counted at least ten different narrators. As you might expect, it is difficult to keep track of each individual, but the primary characters are well-written and likeable.
Gurdeep and Georgie are a married couple at the heart of the story. Gurdeep is chosen to head the mission, and is a buttoned-up mechanical engineer who also happens to bake delicious treats in her spare time. She is the cool, calm, and selfless leader I would hope to have for a critical mission. Georgie is a free-spirited food scientist who wants to ensure life on Mars includes pleasure and not just survival. We find Georgie snacking on Gurdeep’s creations at every opportunity, and as the story progresses we see that she provides not only scientific expertise but also critical emotional intelligence and team building skills.
Devon is an autistic 3D printing specialist who will be tasked with using Martian raw materials to produce the colony’s tools. She is part of the advance mission, and we experience the harrowing journey to Mars through her unique perspective.
The rest of the crew primarily identifies as female, for reasons that are explained in the book. They represent a spectrum of specialties, nationalities, and sexual orientations and were carefully chosen to enhance the mission’s chances of success.
The Writing Style
Devon’s Island intrigued me from the first pages as I attempted to guess what was happening on Earth and why the secret mission was so important. I read this book without knowing it was the first in a planned series, and it took me some time to understand why so many new characters were being introduced. However, once I settled into the framework I quite enjoyed Clarke’s exploration of the scientific, legal, and moral considerations required to essentially design a new civilization.
I loved geeking out with Clarke and imagining what the minimum viable number of crew members might be, what a new economy might look like, and how an item we take for granted (like coffee) might actually be essential to happiness on Mars. Devon’s Island is also wonderfully diverse, and I enjoyed reading about a character and later realizing I had no idea if they identified as male or female.
This is not truly a con but rather a word of warning. While science fiction usually offers an escape from everyday concerns, this novel felt eerily prescient.
This book is tailor-made for armchair scientists who enjoy the process of world building. Devon’s Island is a surprisingly topical book for our moment, and I look forward to seeing where Clarke takes the story next.
Excerpt from Devon’s Island by SI Clarke
‘I’m sure you’re aware of the incident last year?’ Laura’s eyes widened as she looked down the bridge of her nose at us.
Her emphasis made it sound like there was only one incident worth mentioning, though to be honest, I wasn’t sure which one she meant–there’d been a lot in recent months. Still, I nodded. North Korea, Russia, Syria, the US… Terrorism, wars, coups, and near misses. We couldn’t stop trying to kill one another. The planet was locked in a never-ending cycle of one-upmanship.
Beneath the glass table, Laura uncrossed and recrossed her legs. ‘Of course. Well, I’m authorised to tell you this incident came closer to destroying life on Earth than we would care to admit.’ There’d been rumours of a nuclear almost-strike between Iran and the US. Maybe that’s what she was referring to. She touched a locket at her throat like it was a source of strength. ‘The event served as the impetus for my employers coming together to formulate a plan.’
She swallowed. ‘Our best people have been working on this for quite some time. They are in agreement, which I assure you is rare in itself. They tell us there is a greater than fifty-fifty chance of either complete or near-complete societal collapse within the next decade.’
She looked both of us in the eye in turn. ‘We want to be sure we have a group of humans who not only survive, but who can also ensure that the history, biology, technology, and aspirations of planet Earth won’t be lost. I’ve been tasked with organising a fully self-contained, self-governing off-world base. It will maintain contact with Earth but be completely separate from it. My employers want to ensure this happens, but they have recused themselves from the running thereof.’
Laura said her employers had hired Double Star to manage the logistics of getting us there.
‘And who are your employers, if I may ask?’
‘You may ask, Captain Singh,’ she replied with what could’ve–I wasn’t sure–been a smile. Might’ve been more of a smirk. ‘However, it’s not a question I’m at liberty to answer. What I can tell you is that we are establishing a command team to form the core of the new colony. We want you, Captain Singh, to lead it.’
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- ISBN number: 978-1916287808
- Publisher: Indie author
- SI Clarke Online
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