Beacon 23 – Hugh Howey (2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston)
It starts off like a scratchy, unshaven version of The Martian: first person storytelling, self-deprecating humour, a protagonist who faces a lot of scrapes that he needs to MacGyver himself out of. But Beacon 23 changes over the course of five stories, and it becomes less about the minutiae of the life of a man alone in space, sent to the beacon to protect FTL travellers from fatally crashing. This is actually a darn good anti-war novel, and a deeply emotional exploration of a soldier with PTSD. The superfluous stuff – the bounty hunters, the cute alien pet – give the book a bit of levity some readers might require for balance, but for me, it is all about the way this unnamed, war-ravaged man feels and how it influences everything he does – including making the most agonizing, horrific decision anyone should ever have to.
I had one annoyance, but when reading other reviews of the book online, it didn’t seem to bother anyone except me, so take this with a grain of salt: of course these stories were originally published as five singles on Amazon, and as befitting an omnibus edition, they were just slapped together as is in their complete forms. I would have preferred to see them slightly rewritten for this format so that they ran together smoothly as one complete novel – I hated going to the next story and getting a full recap of the events that took place earlier. I found it jarring. I guess I should have read them in their original form; it wouldn’t have been an issue then.