Ada Hoffmann, The Outside, Angry Robot, 2019.
Audiobook available on Audible.
The Outside by Ada Hoffmann will probably be one of my favourite science-fiction novels of the year. It's smart, it's fast paced, it doesn't go for easy shortcuts, the worldbuilding is very interesting and it has great characters.
Once again, Angry Robot proves that small presses have some of the best stories out there at the moment.
Yasira Shien is a scientist. She has developed a new energy drive which will provide for humanity, without interference from the AI gods. But when it is turned on, the space station is destroyed and people die. One of the AI gods, Nemesis, abduct her so she can help them to capture a rebellious scientist, who used to be Shien's teacher.
The worldbuilding is probably the most impressive thing in The Outside. First of all, there are the AI gods, artificial intelligences who evolved until they achieved a power far superior to humans and became, de facto, their gods. But these are interefering gods, because they are in this world, with a keen sense of orthodoxy and unorthodoxy. Add to that the fact that they are gods only in this galaxy. Galaxy next door? It's completely different. And then there's the Outside, that doesn't obey to physics laws, thus to the gods. Now imagine if the Outside bled into this world...
Would it be good? Would it be bad? These are also the questions Shien will have to answer. Which isn't exactly easy when you have been recruited by Nemesis to do her bidding because you'd best not choose the wrong answer. It won't happen, though, will it? Because Shien has been raised to obey the gods, and her girlfriend is a believer.
Well, the problem is that Shien is autistic and that means the way she views the world can probably be an asset to capture her mentor, or it may also may make her a liability. The autistic representation (own voices reprensentation) is absolutely splendid in the sense that it's all in the perfect little details.
Conflict is thus at the heart of every characters' relationships, and absolutely central in the development of Shien's character.
Aside from Shien, Hoffmann excells at giving us secondary characters who all have a very distinctive personality and who are often nuanced.
The pace is sustained, taking us from discovery to mystery to action scenes. The Outside is an easy read that you may end up devouring.
I was nonetheless a bit ill-at-ease in how Hoffmann provides the descriptions of her characters, conflating planet of origin/nationality with physical appearance, thus erasing immigration and mixed race families. But that would be my only niggle about this novel.
For the rest, I was in awe at how she included very subtly a metaphor for being neurodiverse in a neurotypical world (so subtly you may not even see it's here), and at how she handled such a smart world building and complicated relationships. Also: physics! Tentacled creatures! Chaos!
The Outside is a science-fiction novel that you must not miss if you like the genre. It's outside (sorry) the box and goes well beyond the current tropes. It's a refreshing, smart and fast paced read that you have to try if you are into scifi.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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