There is a common misconception that sci-fi writers write about the future. Not so. The future so quickly catches yesterday’s predictions (jetpacks excepted) that writers struggle to keep up. I can hear it taunting us, saying, ‘is that what you call imagination?’ whilst it picks tinder from between its teeth and farts wheels on to our suitcases. As I rise the escalator in the Orwellian nightmare that is Euston station looking at posters of the latest aircraft carrier, ‘for a great nation’, to the tannoy leitmotif of every Londoner, ‘for your safety CCTV is in operation’, I don’t envy the sci-fi writer. The future became a parody of itself and then some. There was only one place to turn, total apocalypse.
To judge a sci-fi books ability to predict the future is to err (perhaps 1984 excepted). But even 1984 captured a contemporary whisper which it expressed in extremis. Good sci-fi illuminates the present. It is a succinct allegory for our times. And it is to this metric (amongst others including quality of prose and depth of characterisation) that I judge the Osiris Project.
Where were we? Total apocalypse.
Total apocalypse severs the link between our world and the world being written about. The latter is no longer an exaggeration of the former, but its own entity. E.J. Swift goes one step further and builds a world in the sea in order to further remove it from any point of interfering reference. The author strikes a balance between description and trust in the reader’s imagination which makes for some vivid imagery. In my mind I pictured something between the crumbling into the sea cities in the movie Inception and the seascape of Waterworld (the one with Kevin Costner).
A city in the sea built by a few founding families who retain their status and influence today, finds its foundations decaying (both literally and idealistically). Our protagonists are Adelaide (from the east) and Vikram (west) and the narrative oscillates between the two. Both have flaws. Vikram has a temper and Adelaidle is an affluenza suffering insomniac. I don’t want to go for a pint with either of them but I’m happy to be a fly on the wall. The ironically named westerners (Vikram) are the have-nots, whilst those in the east (Adelaide) are the haves and we are reminded that this dystopian vision is in the here and now when we look at Gaza or even Calais. OK, so the inequality dimension is not new but to express it as well as E.J Swift does is incredible.
To top it off there is some cracking prose. For example, this line really grabbed me, ‘his eyes were the colour of dusk, and held its ambiguity’. It’s sentences like this that make me scared to meet the author. I loved the idea that people who have never set foot on land (by this point we are 4 generations into the city of Osiris) would still have land dreams. This posits the idea that there is a centralness to being that can sometimes feel out of place in the world we live in. A phenomenon that leaves us wanting more, or less, or something else. A phenomenon which to some, in the case of this book Adelaide’s brother Axel, can have far reaching consequences.
This book is a debut novel; an incredible feat. But I grant it no leeway on that account. Crucially it left me wanting more and as luck would have it; there is more. The book is part of a trilogy. Part two, Cataveiro, is already out and part three is in proof.
In conclusion; Machiavellian politics, city in the sea, allegory for our times, great prose, human characters. An excellent debut novel that deserves to be read.
And if you fancy checking out the book trailer then here it is. Enjoy.