The Perihelion, by D.M. Wozniak - 5 Stars

The Perihelion is a striking and uncommon conceit, mature in both style, form and characterisation but also with something wistful and hopeless about it, another long dark teatime of the soul. The writing is assertive, suggesting the author has been in this game for a while. I also don’t think it was written quickly as it reads like the work of years. The motifs within this multi-thread plot are tragic and very human, yet they’ve been spun out of a dystopian premise in a terrestrial future. Some are analogies (capitalist/socialist futures, genomic meddling, the meaning of self-worth) and some are speculations rolled out in plain sight (modern convenience vs closeness to your baby). These ideas are delivered in a variety of ways and the reader finds they’re dwelling on different motes in a swirl of things to think about. As with everyday existence, some of the worries will always be beyond our scope to control, so the philosophical would say “Why worry? Leave it in their hands”. Who’s they?


Without any direct hooks to pin this feeling to, the echo moments of individual solitude and vulnerability in a large city space remind me of some of the established works of sci-fi, such as The Martian Chronicles and The Man Who Fell to Earth. I mean that in a complimentary rather than a critical way but this book could have been written a while ago and been a pillar of another era, so I hope it won’t be lost in the over-population we have now. Abandoned places, drifting sands, love among the ruins, yet it’s told from a functionally advanced city and that’s reconciled somehow. No matter how crowded your world is, or how advanced our society, remember when you close your eyes that everyone sleeps alone.

The 99ers programme is interesting because that could happen, or more accurately we can do that now (CRISPR) and only ethics prevents us, yet with 200 national authorities on Earth, it just takes one to conform to a different interpretation and the sequencing devices will be in business at street level. Wait and see. Would your child like a carapace? No problem. We’ll have to expand the definition of human. That’s the rub really. Change in what it is to be anatomically human has previously been an extremely gradual process – no homo erectus parent gave birth to a homo sapiens child because transition crept along in a granular way. Now we have the ability to apply significant change to the human form in one generation. A one percent change sounds like a reasonable risk but how do we control that getting into the shared gene pool permanently? The hybrids will have a 99pc case for human rights, which includes the right to reproduce, and most of them will be fully capable of saying so. Would you be on their side? Of course you would. It’s compassion. NB. The genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees is one percent.

For me, the best part of the book was the story of the photographer who has built his career on a single decision to take advantage of an unethical opportunity. This thread covers temptation, right and wrong, the ‘devil’ tempting, dishing out success and riches but then turning it to dust and that leaves the reader with the concern they might have done the same in the circumstances, with that shallow gloss of inner justification which unpleasantly reminds them they’re just as rotten as he is. How many inventions, thoughts and quotes through human history have we attributed to the wrong person because the real originator faded into oblivion before shouting their name? How many people have accepted a medal for someone else’s contribution? How many distributed the blame?

This is one of the leading indie narratives I’ve read in the last year and I recommend it. It’s a next step speculation of the future but with pockmarked grandeur and a sense of place. What I mean is, everyone’s childhood includes a baseline landscape that they then compare a changing world against to decide whether they like it. This book has an identity that seems to have grown from an extrapolation of our current baseline and moved humanity into a time more progressive but subtly less comfortable, degrading even, where anything organic and wild is an aberration, a nuisance to be controlled, designed out or killed and replaced. The “wilderness” of the Redlands waits outside the city and there’s hesitation, they’re scared of it, not because it is dangerous but because they fear what is not under control.

I was trying to find if there is a measurable mathematical definition of wilderness, an algorithm, as I've heard it said that genuine wilderness no longer exists (therefore we need to drop the word or evolve its practical meaning into something that's still relative to us). It turns out there actually is one. The modern and adapted definition of wilderness can be seen in real time by anyone with a phone as the output of a population density and wireless coverage calculation. Put simply: Anywhere they don't bother to put a Pokemon.

We can go to the world of Perihelion, if we choose this path, but we will no longer be fully human when we arrive. Humans are creatures of matter, with meat and genomes, just like other animals, but unlike other animals half of us exists in the air (thoughts, aspirations, philosophy, spirit and principles), so the neat accomplishment of this book is to show a future where we are becoming progressively less human in both arenas. Will that future population even notice, if their baseline is not far behind? Then, if they do, will humanity pull the plug and re-set how the species chooses to live or will it just wimp out and stay aboard a train that’s going somewhere they don’t want to be?

It's amazing how none of the reviewers of this book so far seem to have got the same things out of it or have agreed on anything else really... except for the 5 Star rating.

Comments

  1. Faith, thanks for the great review!

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  2. You're welcome. I look forward to your next book.

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