Genre: Science Fiction
Released: July 2017
Reviewed by: Jane Stockwell
“A Planet for Emily” is a sci-fi novel by Australian author Mark S. Lawson, who presents a dystopic future where the Earth has engaged in an interstellar war with the reptilian Zards… and lost. The Zards have claimed the Earth and the human race is exiled planetless to an artificial environment, Earth Station, and various mining outposts through the galaxy.
Overcrowding and food shortages on Earth Station are rife, leading to a hellish existence for the surviving humans. With no possibility of defeating the powerful Zards and reclaiming the Earth, the remaining humans are desperately trying to find a new home planet, dubbed as “El Dorado”; an unattainable paradise. The Zards are determined to keep the humans confined in exile, so any expeditions to find El Dorado must be carried out with the utmost secrecy.
The story follows Suzanne Clark, a young woman who lives on Earth Station. We pick up shortly after she arrives at one of the remote mining outposts in search of her sister, Eve, who is a colonist aboard the colony ship, the Dawn Treader. Eve has sent a cryptic message to Suzanne that their ship has found a planet that could become the mythical El Dorado.
Suzanne is taken under the wing of the cantankerous but capable Rods, captain of the James Maxwell Clerk, an old but serviceable space liner. Rods crews the Max with his robotic “muscle”, Igor, the ship’s AI, Max (the distinction between the ship as the Max and the AI as just “Max”), and a steady stream of “cruise directors” who are normally disreputable young women desperate to escape the mining outposts. Suzanne neatly steps into the cruise director position on the Max, recently vacated due to the incumbent’s hijacking attempt.
With the scene set, we finally meet the “Emily” the book is named for, an infant on one of the outposts. The plight of this tiny, innocent human being, destined to spend her life on space stations without ever experiencing a real home, drives Suzanne to try to break the code left for her by her sister that could lead to El Dorado.
We then embark on a good old-fashioned sci-fi story, with sexual tension between Rods and the already-engaged-to-someone-else Suzanne, a failed hijacking attempt that ends rather badly for the would-be hijackers, alien encounters, fist fights, kidnappings, discovering new planets and an exciting finale. The narrative never seems to be slow or forced, with a good pace ticking along throughout.
The author makes many references to older literature with characters quoting Byron, C. S. Lewis with the Dawn Treader and even Gilbert & Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore” a favorite for Rods to sing while working on his ship. It’s quite refreshing to show that future humans have not lost touch with our history. The whole future-history and cast of ancillary characters provide a nice depth to the universe without belaboring it to the reader.
Unfortunately, the editing goes from excellent to more and more frequent errors as the book goes along. It’s not huge, but noticeable, especially if you’re a bit of a pedant about that, which is a failing I admit to. It just looks like the editor got bored about halfway through and wandered off.
Mark S. Lawson is an accomplished writer, having worked as a journalist for the Australian newspaper syndicate Fairfax Ltd for many years, as well as having published several non-fiction books. It shows through in his work. His writing style is concise and readable. It’s just a shame that the editing errors creeping in towards the end of the story.
“A Planet for Emily” is an interesting and exciting sci-fi novel in a dystopian future. I would very much like to see further adventures with the characters introduced to us in this story, or within the universe it portrays.