The main difficulty for me with the Halcyon Cycle has been the interval between books! On this occasion, (having previously written to ask when this was coming out) Peter kindly sent me a free review copy, which I found waiting for me on my return from a trip away. I was tired from my travels; so that made a perfect excuse to put my feet up and read – and I devoured over a third of the book in one day! After that, I decided I had better catch up on my other work and rationed myself quite severely. One tip: if, like me, it’s about 2 years since you read the last book I’d recommend re-reading that first. Maybe even re-read both. I found that I had become pretty hazy over some of the details: but I was so intent on following the story that I failed to notice the helpful glossary and maps at the back until I’d almost finished.
The book is very fast-paced, as Al and his friends engage in an increasingly desperate search to trace his wife and adopted son before they are lost forever in the terrifying abyss called Sheol. This leaves them less time for philosophical debate than in previous books. Nevertheless, the philosophical element is still present, covering such issues as the social bankruptcy of [tyranny], duty in the face of despair and whether the goodies are always good or the baddies irredeemably bad.
The book ends on a high note: but this is very evidently the calm before the storm. Key questions remain unanswered; and the eventual outcome is far from certain. Will good ultimately triumph over the evils that may arise from the depths of Sheol, from within the ranks of the Ancient Ones, or from Earth itself? Is there going to be another trilogy? I won’t be satisfied until I see the next series.
I came across Peter Kazmaier in an online group discussion on some fairly contentious issues relating to faith and morality. I was struck by his reasoned approach and intrigued to discover that he was also the author of this book. Having read many sci-fi and fantasy books in the past, but nothing of that ilk recently; I decided to put it on my Christmas list. After all, it should be better than a pair of socks. And I’m glad to say, it was.
Initially, the book reads like a fairly standard science fiction novel. A force-field experiment at a University on the little island of Halcyon goes catastrophically wrong, ripping the entire island into what appears to be an alternate reality with no human inhabitants. But as they begin to explore this part-familiar, part-alien world a different picture slowly emerges. Was their coming here an accident, and what is the real agenda of the men who have set themselves up as Halcyon’s leaders? More worryingly still, it gradually becomes apparent that this world was not always uninhabited. So why does it seem that way now – and is it really?
As the plot thickens the book becomes more of a science fantasy battle between both moral and spiritual forces of good and evil than a simple science fiction. But this is one of the most interesting aspects of the book. On one hand, are hard-nosed scientists and philosophers, determined to create a new human utopia without any taint of religion or old-fashioned morality. In the middle are a lot of hurting and confused young people of various persuasions who desperately want to go home; and at the other extreme a group of religious fundamentalists who simply want an escape from the perceived evils of this brave new world.
But who are the real moralists and the real oppressors? As we follow the stories of some of those caught in the middle of all this, there are many fascinating discussions as they try to work through the issues of who, and what, they should believe, and how they should respond in this strange new reality.