Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Books (September 12, 2017)
Length: 368 pages
My Rating: 3 stars
A murder mystery wrapped in techno science fiction trappings, The Man in the Tree is an elegantly crafted tale of a future where mankind’s main hope of surviving ecological disaster is to send its people out into the universe.
The year is 2029. Earth has been decimated by world-wide ice melt; rising sea levels swallowing huge portions of the continents. The catastrophe causing huge portions of the remaining land to turn into arid wastelands. The only arable land left for farming now at the poles. World populations have naturally plunged. Wars have escalated. Borders have changed. New political unions formed. And though there is a possibility that earth might heal itself of the pollution, the remaining world powers decide to hedge their bets on humankind survival by building a seedship to send off into space.
The Kybele is the first such seedship. Likely the only one. A huge, hollow asteroid turned into a multi-generation colony ship with its own internal sun, river, forests, fields, and thirty thousand colonists ready to set out on a one way trip to a distant planet that might or might not be habitable. And the huge ship is near completion; the last work crews soon to depart, the final members of the “dreamers” about to come on board and ready for departure. Then a man is found dead! His lifeless body discovered hanging from a tree in the wilderness of Kybete. A murder investigation quickly beginning.
Helt Borresen is an Incident Analysis aboard the Kybele. He will be leaving with the rest of the dreamers soon. And while he is alone, he has recently met a woman whom he wants to have a relationship with: Elena. But, now, Helt is tasked with uncovering who this dead man is, how he died, and, if it was murder, who did it. Unfortunately, Helt’s investigation soon points toward Elena being involved!
Never having read any work penned by Sage Walker, I have to admit not being prepared for the precise, elegant, and seamless prose she exhibits in her writing. Every page of this book was as smooth as silk; every conversations portrayed in a realistic way; and the technological marvels rendered in a believable and understandable manner. If for no other reason than being introduced to the author’s fantastic writing, I am truly glad I read this novel.
In my eyes, the other real strength of this story is a fully realized world. The seedship itself a detailed, believable behemoth which felt very real the more you read. The hollowed out interior with its mechanical sun, semi-wild forests, cultivated fields, small villages, familiar restaurants and shopping areas exactly what one would expect with an ark built to keep generations of humans comfortable during a two hundred year voyage to another world. And while much of this story took place in offices, labs, and governmental-type territory, those also felt normal, not foreign, to my earthbound mind.
This narrative also successfully dealt with many complex issues, giving a reader plenty of things to think about after putting the book down. Global warming. Immigration. (Only 30,000 dreamers can go on the ship, and if you don’t fit in, you are deported back to earth.) Humanities intrinsic ability to always cause its own problems. And the concept of love and what you will do or give up to keep it. Each of these issues dealt with in an evenhanded and tactful manner.
As for my main complaint, it would have to be the pacing of this slow burn scifi murder mystery, which felt very sluggish at times. Certainly, it did keep progressing forward with different twists and turns, but the relationship between Helt and his prime suspect Elena was the main element of the plot much of the time and just did not produce enough tension or suspense to liven up a narrative which suffered from a lack of any real surprises until near the end. I suppose it all comes down to personal preference, and I openly admit that I like my mystery more fast-paced with edge of the seat tension or pulse-pounding excitement. Unfortunately, The Man in the Tree was not that type of book.
This is a science fiction mystery which many fans will love. It has a beautifully rendered world, subtle depth of meaning, and fantastic prose from Sage Walker. While I did not enjoy it as much as I hoped, I definitely will be reading more from this author in the future.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.