Genesis Earth by Joe Vasicek (2011)

Genesis Earth by Joseph Vasicek Smashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

3/5 stars

Description:
Michael Anderson is a teenage planetologist haunted by the fear that he will never live up to the legacy of his astrophysicist parents. Terra Beck is the outcast child of a bitter divorce, who only wants to run away and immerse herself in her one true passion: astronomy. Raised on a distant space station by the scientists who constructed mankind’s first artificial wormhole, neither has set foot on Earth.

When the scientists detect a mysterious signal from an Earthlike planet on the other side of the wormhole, Michael and Terra find themselves alone on an exploration mission to discover the signal’s source. They no sooner arrive at the system, however, than a mysterious alien ghost ship appears out of nowhere and begins to hunt them down. Alone, twenty light years from the nearest human being, they must learn to open up and trust each other—but how can they do that when one or both of them may be insane?

As Michael struggles to keep the mission from falling apart, he is forced to reexamine his deepest, most unquestioned beliefs about the universe—and about what it means to be human.

Review:
Genesis Earth is a space opera coming of age story. Michael and Terra are two young adults raised on Heinlein space station, and they’re charged with an important mission that could usher in a new era of space exploration. While they face the unknown, an innocent romance blooms between the two.

This book has a wonderful start. The conflict and paranoia between the two characters while they’re isolated in space is brilliantly done. I liked how they aren’t hyper-competent protagonists, but very flawed young people who happen to be on the most important mission for mankind. They take different approaches towards their obligations to the mission: while Terra considers herself free from expectations, Michael nearly collapses from the weight of his responsibilities. Their characterization and interactions are a strength of this book.

Vasicek’s prose and exposition are excellent. The pacing is slow, but it works in the story’s favour because it sets the mood and it makes the build-up fairly intense. The scene where the protagonists thaw from cryogenic sleep is particularly memorable. It’s heart-pounding and it really shows how fragile humans are out in the cold void of space.

While the first half is great, the book changes focus to something I couldn’t care much about. The big questions developed early on were meaty stuff: where should humanity go and what is the future of mankind? But instead of fully exploring those questions, the protagonist decides to shelve them and focus on carving out a life for himself.

The personal conflict of Michael deciding between what’s best for the mission and for his own life is actually good, and it’s not a conflict I often see in sci-fi. The problem is that Michael himself is uninteresting compared to the big questions that the story decides to ignore. I was willing to put up with Michael to see what he’d discover, but when he decides to focus on himself and his budding relationship with Terra, it’s hard to stifle the yawns. They’re the space equivalents of two young adults that have never left their small town: they’re boring. Do I care if they’d settle down and find a happily ever after? Not really. And it’s hard to take their romance seriously when there’s half a dozen unused Chekov’s guns littering the landscape.

I was also incredulous at Michael’s priorities. He finds a terrifying answer to the “future of mankind” question, and instead of pursuing it and possibly changing humanity’s fate, he decides to stick to the mission. I understand that he’s a strict-rule-abiding kind of guy, but I’m sure the folks back on Heinlein station would rather have him investigate that lead. I was surprised that Terra didn’t consider that a priority either. To be blunt, I thought that their subsequent accomplishments amounted to rearranging the furniture while the house burned down. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it bothered me that they didn’t recognize the weight of their decision.

Genesis Earth explores big sci-fi questions, but they eventually fade into the background as the puppy love between the two protagonists takes centre stage. Vasicek is a competent prose writer, he establishes the space setting really well, and he has good ideas. I’d like to see him tackle a concept-driven science fiction story. If you’re looking for a sci-fi adventure or one that thoroughly explores big questions, this isn’t it. But if you just want a coming of age story with a bit of romance set in space, this might be up your alley.

Other reviews of this book: Science Fiction Addiction

You might like this if you like…
The terrifying loneliness of the universe; innocent romance between two young adults in space

If you’re interested in more free ebooks, it’s neat to know that Vasicek has several on Smashwords. There’s a novel and a handful of short stories mostly in the genre of science fiction, so those may be worth a look.

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About Caroline Cryonic

Formerly known as Frida Fantastic. A speculative fiction book blogger from Vancouver, Canada currently living in Quezon City, Philippines.

Posted on September 12, 2011, in 3 stars, Ebook Reviews, Frida Reviewed, Genesis Earth, Joe Vasicek, Science fiction, Space opera and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Looks like our opinions converged pretty similarly on this one.

    • Pretty much. Just added the link to your review on the post, so readers can compare it side by side ;D

      I think all the ideas are really good and Vasicek writes with real skill (seriously, that cryo scene is amazing) and he’s really good at building tension, it’s just that this book puts too many spotlights on elements that were ultimately irrelevant for the main story. There were a bunch of conflicts/themes, and they were all interesting, but the character-development stuff should have been beefed up more in the early portion in order to become the main focus in the final leg.

      While Michael and Terra are young (and lived on a barren rock for most of their lives), they could have been more interesting characters if there was more to their personal history. I think all the very eventful external stuff (their discoveries) are great, but it should have been de-emphasized or at least just shows Pandora’s box, rather than stick the key in and not turn the key after all. That’s my other two cents.

      • Yeah I have to agree Frida. And there were a few scenes I really liked; the cryo scen was one of them and then the buildup in the spacecraft…I thought the story was going to take a survival horror turn (like Dead Space or something).

        Looking back at it now though, what I remember most though was not being able to wrap my head around the characters. I like characters to be flawed, but with the intense psychological testing that goes on for astronauts when the older guy was telling Michael about Terra’s mental issues, I was just thinking ‘wait…they’re sending these two to make first contact?’

        Finding those types of holes is where a good beta reader or editor could have been supremely helpful, because Vasicek definitely has the writing chops to make things interesting.

  2. Oh and thanks for the link. I’ll put one on mine as well. In fact networking reviews like that seems like it would probably be a great idea.

    • That build-up to the spacecraft was intense and creepy. I’m a big fan of survival horror. You’re right, I was expecting some half-alive Gigeresque creature hanging over the ceiling, ready to make Michael post-human in ways that he didn’t expect.

      I actually liked how screwed up everyone was. I thought it subverted the Scientists Can Only Create Utopia and Breed Perfect Humans tropes that sometimes go unquestioned. I liked the immense lapses in judgement from the folks back in Heinlein station, and the uncertainty of everything. And how Michael and Terra were so intelligent but also socially dysfunctional (I’d hate to work with Michael). I have a feeling that in reality, that technocrats working with technocrats in an isolated space isn’t that different. I thought it was an interesting and dark take on the whole “you’re the chosen ones for the first-contact mission” deal.

      I agree on how this book could be improved with betas and editors to look at the story. The editing is impeccable, so maybe it was betaed/edited on a chapter-by-chapter basis, or in parts. The details are good, but the most jarring thing about it is the overall trajectory: that the main story you were looking for just ended up to be window dressing. It’s the sort of thing that a beta/editor who’s close to the work could easily miss, so having different betas/editors look at it at the final stage would be immensely beneficial.

      • Yes! Giger is who I was thinking of in my previous comment, I just couldn’t remember his name and didn’t bother googling. You make some good points about the psychology aspects. I hadn’t thought of it quite like that. There’s certainly room for both types of first contact stories, so I guess I shouldn’t get too stuck on it.

        This little discussion was fun. We should definitely have more. I’ll have to get to reading Reich TV so we can talk about it.

      • @Derek: Cool chat! This coming week I’m reviewing Death of a Kingdom, then I’ll be reviewing Symphony of Blood. I hope you’ll find Reich TV worthwhile (I recommended it, after all), but we’ll be able to chat about it too :)

  3. It was definitely cool to see the synergy between Frida’s and Derek’s reviews on the book. When two reviewers are in such agreement in completely independent readthroughs, it’s definitely time to pay attention. If there’s a sequel to this one, it sounds like a developmental pass might be in order to hone the skill set, but both reviewers agree that the author has a lot of inherent writing talent and may be someone to watch on sequels.

    • Good analysis, Rex! While I don’t comment on all blogs I visit, I lurk on quite a number of book review blogs, and it’s always fascinating to see what other reviewers think of the same book.

      I think reviews are a bit of an “ecosystem”. While there are individuals I’ve picked out over time who have pretty similar taste to mine and I trust them 99% of the time, there are reviewers whose taste aren’t similar to mine but they bring up valid points–and they fulfill that same function but for different people. That’s why I like vibrant reviewing communities :)

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