I met the author Elizabeth Guizzetti at NorWesCon 39. I saw her table as I was waiting in line for my convention badge. Later, I walked over to her table and asked about the sign. “What is ‘gritty science fiction’?” I asked.
She explained that her books are about survival in space, not always pleasant, and rely on characters having strong skills to get by. She explained the plot of her first book, Other Systems, and pointed out the first sequel: The Light Side of the Moon. I asked if she’s local, and learned that she lives in Seattle. (I didn’t ask which neighborhood.)
I asked Elizabeth Guizzetti if she’d recommend this book for me, since I enjoy stories about space travel, and about colonizing other worlds. She laughed, and said yes, of course. (It was a trick question. I needed a book which was recommended by someone I just met.)
I bought a copy of Other Systems, which the author autographed.
The book takes place in a distant future. Earth became overpopulated. Human colonies were established on the moon, Mars, Ganymede, and Triton. Colony ships were sent out beyond the solar system.
Earth used up most its resources, and could no longer support the distant colonies. Many colonists returned to Earth. Several colonies died out. Earth lost contact with the distant colony ships.
Abby is seventeen years old. She’s an assistant librarian in Seattle. Like the rest of the world, Seattle is overcome with poverty. Flooding has destroyed most of Downtown. Skyscrapers which could no longer be maintained were torn down for scrap material. People typically live in communal housing (if they can afford to). Seattle’s libraries are still open, but require a library account to open the front doors – to keep out the homeless. (The good news is that the price of salmon has dropped to $700 per kilogram.)
One day, Earth began receiving a repeated radio signal, broadcast in several Earth languages: “Brothers and Sisters, we come in peace and in need. We have found our way home.”
Some people believe this message is from the colony ships, returning home. Some people believe it is an alien invasion force. Many believe it is a message from God, foretelling the last days. Riots break out. More and more people simply stop going to work.
Spaceships arrive in cities all over the world. Some cities tell the visitors they are not welcome, and the visitors leave peacefully. Some cities, including Seattle, welcome the visitors.
The visitors bring an offer: 750,000 young people, between certain ages, who meet physical and mental criteria, can return with them to the planet Kipos, and will be given employment and education, in exchange for replenishing the dying planet’s DNA supply.
Abby and her younger siblings, Jin and Orchid, are chosen. Their parents approve the trip, wishing them to have a better life.
Life on Kipos is not what Abby was expecting.
(If you want to know what Abby found on Kipos, without reading the book, read the back cover and/or the bookmark. In my opinion, it gives away too much of the plot.)
Other Systems is, indeed “gritty”. It’s downright grim in spots. It’s also filled with the wonder and excitement of space exploration.
I enjoyed this 554-page book a lot. Elizabeth Guizzetti takes some familiar topics – environmental destruction, other-world colonization, near-sentient robots, and space travel – and adds fascinating twists. The science is believable and the characters are interesting.
At the end of NorWesCon 39, I was enjoying Other Systems so much that I bought the sequel – Light Side of the Moon – at the charity auction.
It’s good to take a chance on a book.
- A book recommended by someone you just met