Voyage: Embarkation by Zachary Bonelli is possibly the most imaginative book I have ever read. It’s science fiction, and occasionally a hint of metaphysics appears in gems such as, ‘Reflect on your desires, or they will rule you from the shadows of your mind and corrupt every decision you make.’
The story follows Kal, a boy exiled from his home planet, earth, because of a severe allergy to nanites, tiny machine/particles—they are never fully explained—that he, and those on this future earth, use to create whatever he wants. Nanite technology is virtually the same as magic. He can create food, furniture, armour, force fields anything.
Kal lives on a planet which is earth in an alternate universe where the only other sentient beings are huge cats. He has become their protector and uses his nanites which he programs on his pad—a tablet computer—to create food for them, but other than that, he is alone and he longs to return to earth and find a place where he belongs. He travelled to this planet, Felis through the power of the nanites, but he can’t return to earth and survive unless he finds a cure for his allergy. Early in the book he discovers a way to travel between other alternate-reality earths and sets off.
What follows is a series of visits to these alternate earths, and this is where the author gives his imagination full rein. It’s challenging enough for an author to
create one fully-rendered fantasy world, but here there are many, and they hold up well enough for the short time Kal spends in them. The copy editing in this book is pretty clean, and the prose, apart from the occasional clumsy construction, is generally very good. Kal’s characterisation varies. Sometimes it’s good but at other times, it seems that we skip areas that scream for a deeper reaction.
Plot wise there were problems. The antagonist comes in late in the book and has the feeling of something thrown in afterwards, and the main thrust of looking for a cure often gets lost in the events in some of the worlds. Also Kal’s motivations were sometimes unclear or insufficient.
The book touches on the social and ethical variations in cultures on the different earths, and Kala tries to right what he sees as wrong, often to no avail, but this theme could have been developed more fully. The structure is more like a series of scenes than a novel. It just doesn’t quite hang together.
For example, when Kal found a way to travel to other alternate earths, he set off, but we didn’t hear anything about the first place he visited. In the next scene after preparing to go, he was back in his tree house. The gap was very noticeable.
After his brain is cloned, he goes in search of some way to give his holographic doppelganger a body, but I didn’t feel that there was sufficient reason given for him to do this straight away. They needed to develop a relationship first. Tria could have experienced just being as he was before he began to lust after a body.
When Kal arrives in the murk, we learn that he has been there before. He has friends there already, so was I wrong in thinking that he hadn’t been able to travel from Félis before his discovery at the beginning? A character on one alternate earth tells us that he is so desperate to help his clone that he is prepared to give his technology to a society with questionable self-control. For a boy who seems pretty ethical up to that point, that’s a big turn around, and I didn’t feel a strong enough motivation for it or for the fact that he is prepared to put himself in danger to give his mind clone a body. The relationship and motivations for these hadn’t been well enough established beforehand.
Tria also has his own pad. Where did he get it from, and since it’s a holograph, how can it work as Kal’s does? He also activates Kala’s pad. How does he do that when he has no physical substance and the pad is programmed only to start with Kal’s thumb’s imprint?
These issues indicate a lack of editing at the developmental phase, so although there is a lot of imagination and a degree of writing skill to recommend this book, as a whole it needs further work. In terms of ideas and imagination though this an interesting read.