Arkwright by Allen Steele

Arkwright | Allen Steele | 2016 (1 March) | Tor | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book: UK, US

Arkwright by Allen SteeleNathan Arkwright is one of the great writers of science fiction’s golden age, a contemporary of Clarke and Asimov, known and loved throughout the world for his series The Galaxy Patrol and its hero Hak Tallus. In the last years of his life Nathan stopped writing, cutting himself off from fans and, especially, family. But following his death, his granddaughter Kate leaps at the chance finally to know something of this mysterious, enigmatic figure. At the funeral Kate meets Nathan’s three oldest friends (his agent, a fellow author and a famous scientist) who take it upon themselves to teach Kate about their friend, letting her read his incomplete memoirs, while talking to her about Nathan’s greatest legacy of all, the Legion of Tomorrow.

And so begins an extraordinary, wonderful novel that combines an exploration of 20th-century science fiction with the fabulous story of how one writer set out to make science fiction fact, reaching for the stars, knowing it wasn’t achievable in his own lifetime but laying out a path to enable his descendants to do just that. Arkwright moves through the years and decades, through lives, through hopes, despair and aspirations, marriages and children, the Legion of Tomorrow advancing, until finally we are in a place every bit as brilliantly science fiction-y as we, or Nathan Arkwright, could possibly have hoped for.

The past, present and future are all to be found in Arkwright. I loved the early chapters looking back at mid 20th-century science fiction as well as the life of its representative Nathan, a man with such vision, a man who has such an influence over everything that subsequently happens, and the movement through the present into the near future and beyond is done so well. There are a host of stand out characters, it’s fascinating working out their links to the past and to each other, and I can’t think of one section that is any less enjoyable than another. The solitude and loneliness that some characters feel when confronting the legacy forced upon them adds a melancholy to certain parts of the novel that balances the exuberance of the Legion’s dream.

I’m no scientist but I like how the challenges of space exploration are presented here. The issues that science fiction writers debated during the 20th century – the possibility of faster than light travel, the fuel that would be needed to cross such distances, how a person would survive such a journey, and so much more – are all covered here.

I cannot praise Arkwright enough. There is so much in it to discover. It’s accessible but sciencey and meticulous, it’s fast moving – I could not wait to see what would happen next. And it’s one of those science fiction novels that I wished were three times the length. Books like this, so huge in vision and scope, can never be long enough. There is so much about this book that I can’t talk about here – you must discover it for yourself and then let me know what you think. I love where it took me and I loved the journey that took me there. I’m going to stick my neck out and declare Arkwright my favourite novel of the year so far.

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