Friday, October 25, 2013

Surfing the Human Wave: Sarah Hoyt's Darkship-verse

When I asked the Huns for works to review under the Human Wave banner, Cedar Sanderson suggested I tackle Sarah Hoyt first. Now, Sarah is our Movement Mommy -- the Mad Genius who first drummed up the hue and cry against grey-goo science fiction, in which unsympathetic protagonists move through morally indeterminate landscapes and ultimately accomplish nothing of any import. Starting with her does makes sense. So let's talk about the Prometheus Award-winning future history that runs through the following three books:

Darkship Thieves
Darkship Renegades
A Few Good Men

The basic premise: Faced with demographic collapse, scientists in Russia and Europe decide to breed a class of subnormal laborers to take up the slack. Then another set of "geniuses" decides to grow super-administrators to run what will finally be a perfectly efficient top-down utopian government. (Yes! Of course!) As our readers might expect, said super-admins eventually take over completely and resort to psychotic scientific experimentation to maintain their power and achieve immortality. In the turmoil that led to the rule of these "Good Men," some managed to escape to a hidden colony world, but alas, human nature seems to have followed them there. Among those who were left behind on Earth, meanwhile, is a clandestine group dedicated to restoring the ideals of the now legendary USA.

I'll be honest: It took me a while to get through Darkship Thieves. The first novel is not as tight as the other two. I think, however, that this is actually a point in Sarah's favor. Too often, a series will start off strong only to disappoint several books down the road. Authors get tired -- or editors fail to edit. That Sarah's writing actually improves as time goes on is profoundly heartening.

And you know what's also great? In A Few Good Men, Sarah writes a gay protagonist without objectifying him. Instead of using a gay character to make a "subversive" political statement, Sarah writes a fully fleshed-out human being whose homosexuality is not even the most important facet of his personality. Holy crap, imagine that! Gays are people too!

Flaws in the pacing aside, all three books are certainly worth reading. What I particularly appreciate is Sarah's acknowledgement that liberty is damnably difficult to maintain. At first glance, Eden seems to have mastered it -- but when Earth threatens the colony's energy supply, we find several Edenites waiting in the wings to exploit the crisis for their own personal benefit. The embattled Usaians, too, appear to be liberty's champions -- but when they start to gain the upper hand over the Good Men, several in their ranks decide it's time to impose their ideals on the general populace by force. The temptation to control other human beings, Sarah implies, is a universal mark of the Fall that must fought in every group and in every generation. And as I look around the world today, I see this view confirmed time and time again by the many who would trade their liberty for safety -- or a mess of porridge.

Final Verdict: Recommended


  1. Other than making me laugh inordinately with your opening sally, very nice review. I am looking forward to the next one, too.

    1. "I am looking forward to the next one, too."

      Ha ha, I wonder why? ;)

  2. Not as an excuse, but as an explanation -- Darkship Thieves, in its first version, was written 15? 16 years ago. I revised it five years ago, but it is largely still as first written, particularly the "movements" of the book. So I should hope the next two books would be better. ;) In many ways DST was my maiden effort, the first publishable book I ever wrote.
    Now if I can navigate Through Fire, where I'm in the head of a mad woman who makes Athena seem sane...
    As for being "mommy" -- I do tend to take people under my wing. It's sort of a compulsion and not very sane. BUT I'm not a mad genius. Not a genius, at any rate.

    1. "Not a genius, at any rate."

      Bovine excrement. MALE bovine excrement!

    2. Nicely put, lelnet. I agree.

    3. "Darkship Thieves, in its first version, was written 15? 16 years ago. I revised it five years ago, but it is largely still as first written, particularly the 'movements' of the book."

      I thought DST had been written well before the other two, but I wasn't sure, so I didn't mention it. Thank you for the explanation/confirmation!

      Also, lelnet is right.

  3. I thought the styles of the books matched their protagonists very nicely. It never occurred to me that Darkship Thieves was a maiden effort. I thought, it was just the tone to match the circumstance. Hope my maiden effort(s) polish that nicely!

  4. You're far too modest, Sarah. :)

    Starting a movement necessarily requires genius. That's just a fact...even if the genius isn't strictly genetic, but more experiential (i.e. a person with normal capacity for greatness who hits on an idea that has wings), it is still genius. THOugh, given your flair for words and keen insight, I'm inclined to believe you found something from both columns!

    Looking forward to the next installment! I need things to read on the train in the heart of hell...err...New York City.