by Kent Wayne
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
In the late 21st century, humanity left Earth due to multiple resource shortcomings aggravated by an acceleration in climate change. They settled Echo, a planet that was nearly a carbon copy of Earth except for being devoid of all but the most basic life forms. Fast forward 1200 years later. Echo has endured over a thousand years of dark age. Corporations and government merged early on, becoming the oppressive authority known as the Regime. Military and police merged into the Department of Enforcement, their only mission to crush the huge network of rebels known as the Dissidents. Over half the planet is covered by decaying cityscapes and the elite live high above, removed and remote from the greater populace on the moon-city of Ascension. Hope lies in one man, a former Enforcer named Atriya. But before he can break the cycle of darkness and ignorance on Echo, he has to do it within himself.
First Sentence: Atriya was on his way up.
Since I have started doing book reviews, I have stepped out of my comfort zone as far as what genres I am interested in reading. That being said, I typically have very little interest in stories that are heavy in militaristic settings, so I was a bit nervous that I might not be the best person to fairly review this series.
I wanted to give this book a try because of 1. I follow Kent Wayne’s blog and he not only seems pretty cool, but he also has a unique way of writing that keeps me engaged with his musings and 2. I had the same ‘stepping out of my comfort zone’ issue with Way of the Wolf by E.E. Knight and I ended up enjoying that book a lot once I gave it a chance.
In this militaristic dystopian series, humans have relocated to an Earth-like planet, due to Earth itself no longer being inhabitable. 1200 years later, life on planet Echo… well… it sucks. All the governments and big businesses from Earth have merged into one big oppressive nightmare known as the Regime and the only the most elite are able to live a comfortable life in a special city on Echo’s moon.
Life on Echo is pretty damn bleak. For the most part, you’re either a part of the merged military and police department or a harvester, who are basically working themselves to death by mining energy to keep everything going—the worker ants of the hill so to speak. It’s a very strict system that reminds me of how an ant colony operates. And what’s crazy — or maybe not so crazy when you consider our own civilizations that have come and gone— is that most of these citizens seem resolved to their fate and are, for the most part, empty shells that have long lost any ability to comprehend the fundamentals of a full human experience.
Naturally, there are a few rebels who fight against the system, known as Dissidents, and it is the job of the Department of Enforcement to eradicate them. Enter Atriya, a Crusader soldier that has much experience killing Dissidents and seems to be working his way to the top. But he finds that his “contemplative” side, as he calls it, is getting in his way. As he struggles to find any rhyme or reason in what he wants out of his life, Atriya finds that he is changing— reaching the mental breaking point… or “approaching shattering.”
Wayne does a beautiful job of setting up this world and his descriptions paint pictures in great detail. Some of the battle talk and weapon descriptions went completely over my head, but again, that’s because I’m ignorant to those topics. If someone who enjoys or has experienced said topics read this book, then I have no doubt that the skill in which Wayne writes these scenes and descriptions would be such a reader’s wet dream. And the mecha robots and high tech suits! Yep, another damn good wet dream if you like that genre!
It is because I am ignorant to what I mentioned above that I struggled with my decision to give this a 3 or 4-star rating. I decided on the 4-star rating in the end, and I think I made the right decision.
Right from the beginning of chapter 1, we see the brutality of living on Echo. Their military only accepts the strongest and most capable of individuals that can survive the torture of selection. The ones that don’t make it… they are pissed on, humiliated, crippled, and on occasion killed. As Atriya notes later in the book, “We need every gun in the field, but we’ve got thousands of guys that are going to get wasted or injured in Crew selection. Tens of thousands in Wraith selection. Kind of fucked up, don’t you think? I mean, does that make sense to you?”
No doubt, there is little to no empathy or compassion to be found on the planet Echo. And as heartbreaking as that is, it is an all too clear picture of what the system has done to the very fabric of its society. This military that Atriya fights for, they hold no value to their own soldiers. The soldiers are simply dogs with masters that tell them “go kill as many enemies as possible and you might get a treat like a medal or a rank that allows you to use our technology to help you live in a grand fantasy while you sleep.” (You’ll have to read the book to understand that last part). This makes the soldiers highly competitive and cut-throat, not hesitating to throw their own comrades under the bus if it means earning respect and recognition from the higher-ups. It’s obvious that Atriya begins to recognize this and this is the beginning of “approaching shattering.” Being a soldier who fights only for those reasons is not as fulfilling as fighting for a cause, something that one believes in with all his/her heart, fighting for a deeper purpose. The way that this book dives into the effects of outer environment and situations on the human psyche is so subtle, and yet so strong. Not just from a psychological standpoint, but also sociological. This is what made me decide on 4 stars.
I would have liked to learn a little more about the Dissidents and their motivations, but I’m sure that will be addressed in later volumes. In volume one, we only hear stories about fighting the Dissidents. We never actually encounter one. Which brings me to the ending of the book, a total cliffhanger. It reminded me of a comic book ending. “Be sure to grab next month’s issue to find out what happens.” I’ve seen negative reviews for this book due to the ending. BUT… its defense, it is made clear from the very beginning that this is a series. Right on the front cover and even in the title… “Volume 1.” The first book in a series is always the most difficult to pull off because it requires a good portion of the world and plots to be set up, hence the name, a setup novel.
Wayne seems to try and make up for this by giving us a preview of Volume 2, and it does help. I can see where it would be aggravating if you have to wait and wait for the next volume to come out before finding out what happens, but I got lucky. Volumes 2 and 3 are already available. As a setup book, the book gets my thumbs up, the ending is abrupt, but that just further peaked my interest in reading Volume 2. As a stand-alone book, it doesn’t work at all, but again, it was never advertised as a stand-alone book.
I cannot wait to continue this story in the next two volumes!
He embraced the pain. In a way, he was addicted to it. Not the pain itself, but the validation it gave him.
The other half of his attention scanned a sea of tired, uncaring faces and wondered: have people always been this aimless? This run down?
On Echo, all you had to do was go to work, cling to any pleasures that might distract you from suffering, and die. Ignorance wasn’t bliss, but it sure as hell dulled the pain.
Reality seemed to be a game to her, one where she could bend the rules as she deemed necessary.
“Self control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”
“… after a while, people try to create a static set of rules around it, values that conform to their comfort zones. When that happens, people lose the ability to see it for what it truly is.”
In the midst of his anger, a small part of him had enough faculty to wonder: what the fuck is wrong with all of you?
These remarks were supposedly driven by compassion, but in reality, were motivated by fear— fear of experiencing the preordained. The soothing words were empty tributes; vain attempts to put on a brave face in the presence of death.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Other Books in the Echo series: