Saturday, 6 April 2019

Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan

Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan is a standalone science fiction novella from Tor.com. The combination of author I like and imprint of consistently good novellas meant that I was definitely going to read this at some point. Happily I got an early copy, so I can share this review just before release.

Greg Egan's Perihelion Summer is a story of people struggling to adapt to a suddenly alien environment, and the friendships and alliances they forge as they try to find their way in a world where the old maps have lost their meaning.

Taraxippus is coming: a black hole one tenth the mass of the sun is about to enter the solar system.

Matt and his friends are taking no chances. They board a mobile aquaculture rig, the Mandjet, self-sustaining in food, power and fresh water, and decide to sit out the encounter off-shore. As Taraxippus draws nearer, new observations throw the original predictions for its trajectory into doubt, and by the time it leaves the solar system, the conditions of life across the globe will be changed forever.

The premise of this book is a fairly technical apocalypse, involving black holes. There are some maths and physics details near the start, but it’s not opaquely technical, in my opinion. Most of the story focuses on the characters dealing with the disaster and its aftermath and observing and interacting with others doing the same. There were a lot of thoughtful little bits included, which made the read more delightful. For example the headlines from various newspapers (which will be most appreciated by Australian and British readers, I think) and comments about Australian spying in Timor-Leste.

I found Matt’s relationship with his mother both interesting, in the difficulties it added to the book, and a bit incomprehensible, with regards to her attitude. I ended up thinking about her attitude a lot and I think it comes down to this: I can understand apocalypse-denial, but not once the apocalypse is actually happening. As a child of refugees, the idea of not leaving a doomed home to save yourself when you have the ability to just baffles me. I know the mother character’s feelings are reflecting real people’s attitudes but somehow it’s even worse when shown in such an extreme situation. Anyway, that part — Matt’s interactions with his family — gave me a lot of feelings, in the way that good books often do.

This was an excellent read and I couldn’t put it down, even though I had to sleep. I highly recommend it to fans of realistic (ish) apocalypse fiction and Greg Egan’s other books. It’s a brilliant combination of character dynamics and accessible science. I really must get around to reading more Greg Egan.

5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2019, Tor.com
Series: No.
Format read: Paper ARC *gasp*
Source: Won in a Twitter competition

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