The Tabit Genesis | Tony Gonzales | 2015, Pb 2016 | Gollancz | 397p | Review copy | Buy the book
Not too far into the future, the people of Earth have rendered the planet almost uninhabitable thanks to years of war and conflict. The process is completed by the arrival of a hostile alien species, the Raothri. A mere three years before the Raothri ended human life on Earth, two generation ships fled the planet for two distant specks of light in the night sky – Tabit and Tau Ceti. It is unknown what happened to the ship bound for Tau Ceti but the Tabit Genesis reached its destination, finding it as devastated as the planet it had left behind. Now, centuries later, humanity has spread throughout this new solar system, settling moons, space stations and ships. But these are humans and their nature will have their way – racism, elitism, greed and hatred have divided the remnants of the human race, war threatens once more. And all this time alien ‘eyes’ have been watching.
The original crew of the Tabit Genesis generation ship have become central to elite society, regarded as the Highborns. Children born naturally to them are the Firstborns and they are the ones with all of the rights – extended life through enhancements, medical treatment against the pervasive radiation of this region, eminent careers, power, good marriages. But society could not develop without greater numbers of people to do the work and many of these were produced in laboratories and were called amniosynths, known to everyone as ghosts. Ghosts have no connection to anyone from Earth; they have no rights. It is this division that led to the great split between the state and the Ceti, the criminal underground, which has set itself up as a power to threaten the elite of Firstborns. But division goes even deeper. The original Highborn also splintered into separate houses, linked only by hostility and suspicion. One group went to the very distant edges of the solar system, creating a society of kings and warriors. The catalyst in bringing all of the factions together is the Archangel – a new generation ship built by the Firstborns, containing, it is rumoured, Raothri technology. It would seem that there is not a soul alive who doesn’t want this ship.
The Tabit Genesis is a tour de force of a novel, filled with energy, depicting this new potential fall of man by focusing on the experiences of several key figures, moving between them, chapter to chapter. The result is a fabulously-realised and enormously rich universe crying out to be explored. The characters each have such fascinating back histories and perspectives, including senior politicians, generals, scientists, undercover secret agents, warrior princes, fighter pilots, and those with no identities at all. Most have secrets, some are revealed but some are not.
I have my favourites amongst the many characters and one of them is Adam, who mines fuel from the poisonous gases of the planet Zeus. This is a lethal job, not least because of the alien creatures that swim through the gas. But Adam has a connection with these aliens, they can speak to him, and I found the promise of this spellfinding. Some of the characters are more complex than others – not surprisingly because some are given more pages than others – but one who is especially well developed is Jake, the undercover agent, who has experienced such horror in his young life that it expresses itself in the most disturbing and poignant of ways.
There is so much going on throughout this novel that it soon becomes the most exhilarating read. It contains the perfect mix of action and mystery, the present haunted by the past, an uncertain future ahead, with who knows what watching. There is a sense that mankind is on trial and not doing too well. But even the characters we expect to dislike the most are not easily dismissed. We are shown their past, the origins of what they have become. In addition to the human component, the glimpses of aliens, including the Raothri, are hugely intriguing and the novel more than satisfied my thing for spaceships.
I have only one complaint to make and it’s not really a complaint but much more of a hope. There is more than enough going on for the number of pages. I wanted to spend much more time with many of the characters. Each of the storylines gripped me – Tony Gonzales has a spectacular imagination and a huge skill in putting it into words so well, with great feeling as well as enthusiasm and an eye on the adventure. I could very happily have read a novel at least twice the length. This would have enabled me to spend more time with each of the storylines, a few of which were barely touched upon. However, I sense that there is much more to come from this universe and what we will be given will be grand. There are tantalising glimpses of potential futures, other worlds, alien species. I cannot wait to explore more of these worlds, there seems no limits to where we may be taken.