Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred by Greg Egan

The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred by Greg Egan is a science fiction novella set on two large asteroids out in the asteroid belt: Vesta and Ceres. It is a quick and compelling read more about morality than technology, although of course there is technology in it.

Camille is desperate to escape her home on colonized asteroid Vesta, journeying through space in a small cocoon pod covertly and precariously attached to a cargo ship. Anna is a newly appointed port director on asteroid Ceres, intrigued by the causes that have led so-called riders like Camille to show up at her post in search of asylum.

Conditions on Vesta are quickly deteriorating—for one group of people in particular. The original founders agreed to split profits equally, but the Sivadier syndicate contributed intellectual property rather than more valued tangible goods. Now the rest of the populace wants payback. As Camille travels closer to Ceres, it seems ever more likely that Vesta will demand the other asteroid stop harboring its fugitives.

I enjoyed this book and found it interesting, but I wouldn’t call it a happy read. The story follows a few characters on Vesta where something akin to racial tensions are coming to a head. Of the founding families, one has been singled out as having not pulled their weight (because they contributed intellectual property rather than physical technology to the settlement) and their descendants are being are now targeted. The main characters on Vesta are some of these descendants and their friends/sympathisers mounting a resistance against the bigotry targeting them.

The Ceres sections of the novella are set a few years later than the Vestan parts and mainly follow the Director of the Ceres colony as she interacts with Vestan refugees. In both settings there is discussion of morality, from different perspectives, and a few different moral questions are faced by the characters. The story doesn’t really resolve these questions — mostly because there are no right answers, I suspect — and leaves us only with a chapter in the characters’ lives closing. We do not know all the details of what happens next.

I enjoyed The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred and found it a compelling read, especially after I got past the first chapter and got a better idea of what the story was about. I recommend it to fans of science fiction and political stories. As I mentioned, aside from being set on asteroids and taking the relevant environmental factors into account in the background, there isn’t very much science (or, well, technobabble) in this story. If that’s something that often puts you off SF, then I still recommend giving The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred a shot.

4 / 5 stars

First published: November 2016, Subterranean Press
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

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