Review: Nexus: Ascension, by Robert Boyczuk

>>Published: August 2010

>>Finally got around to it: February 2011

The Facilitator’s eyes flickered and he stared off into the middle distance, accessing data. “The plague begins with a light fever. After a brief remission, a more debilitating fever occurs some forty-eight hours later, as the virus spreads to the liver and spleen, enlarging them and accelerating the filtering and phagocytic activities into a hyperactive state. Red blood cells are destroyed indiscriminately. Jaundice appears. Then the victim experiences intense abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. Within twenty hours, lesions form on the skin, and abscesses develop inside the lungs, kidney, heart and brain. Lassitude, confusion and prostration result. Within forty hours, irreversible cerebral and renal damage, then multi-organ failure. Death follows quickly from toxic shock, hypovolemia—or any one of dozens of other complications.”

Silence.

“No survivors,” Hebuiza added flatly, his eyes focused on Josua again. “The morbidity and mortality rates appear to be one hundred percent.”

***

Exhausted and nearly out of fuel at the end of a thirty-year trade mission, the crew of the Ea arrive home to find their world, Bh’Haret, is a corpse. “Screamer” satellites orbit the planet, warning any ships that pass of a plague that has ravaged the planet, leaving no survivors. What follows is a detailed, exciting sci-fi thriller that succeeds in as many ways as it stumbles.

Nexus: Ascension is a difficult beast to fully appreciate. As Boyczuk’s first full-length novel following an admirable collection of short stories, Horror Story and Other Horror Stories, Nexus: Ascension is a well-written, well-plotted book that, while ambitious in scope, fails to provide any true, three-dimensional characters. The result of that is that, beyond the enticing premise, the first half of the book is a bit of an uphill battle. We’re given a cold opening to the characters, but never given the necessary tools to understand how they’ve gotten to be who they are—and why one character in particular, Liis, seems to trip right away into an almost delusional believer/lover mindset with no indications in her character toward such propensity.

Detail is the prevailing theme of this book, and Boyczuk delivers on that end. For all the character beats that feel neglected or absent, the universe, the world of Bh’Haret and the mystery surrounding the plague and the possible involvement of Nexus and the mythical two brothers at the heart of it all are exciting and written with a genuine sense of momentum that carry the second half of the book towards a satisfying conclusion.

Though I enjoyed my time with Nexus: Ascension, I can’t decide if it’s a universe I feel I could visit again. While the detail and history/myths were engaging and thought provoking, the lack of a heart—a character or characters I felt I could really attach myself to—hurt the book’s overall impression. Late in the game we’re introduced to a woman named Lien, a “Speaker”. Her story more than any feels as if it has hooks for another entry into this world, but to what end I can’t be certain. I’d be curious to see where Boyczuk takes this universe, but not with as much excitement as I’d hoped I would have.

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