After a long week of proctoring exams and grading, I finally got all my grades for the semester input yesterday. As I input the last of the grades, I realized that I could actually rest for a while. Even before the thought was finished, it was as if a levee broke and the exhaustion was finally able to overcome my body. I knew I had been running on adrenaline alone the past week. It was still surprising to feel everything catch up with me.
I crawled onto the couch and watched my son play with his toys. Aside from interacting with him, I laid still on the couch for some time. I couldn’t sleep because I still needed to be available for my son. Instead, I decided to read a book as I lay there. I pulled up my kindle and looked back at a couple books I had purchased during the semester, but hadn’t found the time to read. From among them, I decided to read ‘Skyward’ by Brandon Sanderson.
A fleet of ships had purposefully crash landed on a planet in order to escape the “Krell.” In so doing, they ended up stranding themselves on the planet with no way off. In this time, the humans had survived by remaining in small clans. Doing so allowed them to escape the attention of the Krell and live on. It had also kept them from creating a civilization. A group of humans had been attempting to congregate and fight back using ancient technology they had found on the planet. This, of course, drew that wrath of the Krell.
In the aftermath of this confrontation, “Skyward” tells the story of a young woman, Spin, that still dreams of reaching the stars and piloting her own ship. She had spent her entire life dreaming of becoming a pilot, and had worked tirelessly in order to reach for this goal. However, there was much more between her and her dream than she had realized.
As she continues to fight to achieve her dream, she is faced with challenge after challenge. In the process we see her grow from a child into an adult. Sanderson does a wonderful job showing how Spin reacts to each of the challenges and learns from them. Spin’s story, despite the different setting, is extremely similar to that of many students that graduate high-school and move onto college. She felt she knew everything and was prepared for anything. As everything started happening; however, she sees how little prepared she was. Instead of cowering at the aspect, she strives to grow and learn in order to meet the new challenges presented to her. As the story progresses, not only does she gain experience, but she gains wisdom and insight. In so doing, she begins to question everything she had thought she knew, which in turn leads her to become a more complete human being.
Sanderson, indeed has a way with character development in all of his books. This point in a person’s life, as they are entering adulthood, he does particularly well. His portrayal of Vin in the Mistborn series and Kaladin in the Stormlight series are other wonderful examples of such characters. Sanderson is also great at showing how characters develop in childhood, David in The Reckoners Series, or as adults, Dalinar in Stormlight series and Wax in Mistborn: The Wax and Wayne Series. However, there is something special about his stories on new adults. This may just be my personal bias since I work with college age students. I get to see their stories unfold all the time. From this perspective alone, I would recommend Skyward and any of the other books I mentioned. Whether you are entering college, are a parent of someone that is, or if you happen to be a college professor, Spin’s story is one that echoes the things that you see as students learn and grow.
The story takes place in a future set among star-faring humans that have found themselves stranded. There is, therefore, a large amount of time spent discussing different technologies and sciences that would need to be employed. In this aspect, I feel both utterly impressed and amazed, and a little disappointed.
There is a significant amount of real science built into the book. As we read the story of ships flying around, scouting and dog-fighting, there is a great deal of effort put into precisely defining how such maneuvers are performed and the impact that these things would have a pilot’s body. We are regularly reminded of the limitation posed by a pilots body and different procedures used to help push the limits further. Furthermore, he also doesn’t ignore other scientific factors that go into flight and travel. We see air-resistance, gravity and other factors playing themselves in many ways. I truly enjoyed this part of it.
When there was need to break some limit the book leaves me both extremely excited and disappointed at the same time. That is, there were many times that gravity or air resistance needed to be negated. In order to do so, there are different types of technology introduced in the book that explain away the need to worry about such things. However, the technology itself was not described in more than just a naming. Here, the technology is just explained away as something that had been created in a prior time of technological glory, the understanding of which had been lost. While falling into a retrograde society and finding relics of times past that seemed magical in comparison is a real possibility (i.e. the dark ages), it also feels like it is a convenient way out of having to provide details.
On the other hand, while the details of how the technology works isn’t chronicled, the capabilities and limitations of each of these is very well detailed. Here there are many parallels in this science fiction book to his fantasy works. In those, we have magic, in this we have some technology. I am reminded that
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic-Arthur C Clarke
In many ways, this is what we see. A technology which is its own form of magic. Sanderson does magic amazingly well. While the details explaining the possibilities my be missing, he goes through great lengths in order to ensure that, once the rules are defined, he does not alter or break these rules. In essence, he sets up a new universe. He changes the laws of physics. In so doing, he creates a logically consistent alternate reality and places his story within this universe. As a mathematician, this is exactly the sort of thing I love. That is, we change some assumptions and see what happens. Herein lies the beauty in so many of Sanderson’s books. In the course of reading, we get to exist in an alternate reality. The laws have changed, but we still have to follow them. We get to play out what life would look like in a universe with these corresponding rules.
As we often find in his stories, the changing of physics allows for a wonderful look into possibilities. In this wonderful world, where so many new things are possible, we find that the story of humanity is extremely similar to what we already have. We are still faced with challenges, and our reactions to these challenges define us.
This is the first book review I’ve posted on the website, so I do hope you enjoyed it. If you did, let me know so that I can work on doing more. As a further note, yes I did indeed start and finish this book yesterday. It kept me awake and reading despite my exhaustion. If you have questions or comments about the book, please let me know in the comments below, or you can even start your post in the Forums if you would like a broader discussion. I hope you read Skyward, or any of Sanderson’s books. I’ve posted links to Skyward and his other books that I’ve read and recommend below.