Dave Hutchinson is best know for his Fractured Europe sequence – an excellent, gritty near future mixture of spy, noir and even fantasy. So far, I’ve only read the first two books, both of which ended up in my favorite lists of what I read that year. I thought a break from that series before I tackle Europe In Winter might shed some more light on Hutchinson as an author. And while this 103-page novella is not as successful or original as both Europes I’ve read, it’s still a good, entertaining read.
For all the talk about Fractured Europe, Hutchinson’s short story collections seem to have been forgotten in the mists of time: he published 4 of those as David Hutchinson between 1978 and 1982. When he returned to fiction that was largely unacknowledged too. His 2001 full length debut The Villages has a mere 7 Goodreads ratings. The Push, a 2009 Hard SF novella, was released in only 350 copies. It took another 5 years before Europe At Autumn really got things going. Today Acadie is even published by powerhouse Tor, who seem to have picked up on Hutchinson’s critical acclaim.
Hutchinson’s narrative voice is again as confident as it is in Europe. The general feel however, is pretty different. This is good old space opera, with echoes of Iain M. Banks and Alastair Reynolds. It’s far future human centered – without aliens. Humanity has spread across other star systems, and a renegade faction Colony hides from those loyal to Earth, to pursue genetic and scientific boundaries. There’s some political undertones vs. “monolithic entities” and “right wing theocracy”, but luckily that doesn’t dominate, as we’ve read all that before. The focus is firmly on the crew of hollowed out meteors and stealth deep space probes.
Acadie is first and foremost entertainment: references to Tolkien and LARP nibble a bit at the suspension of disbelief, and there’s a joke with the name of a ship that’s just too convenient to be actually possible. The fact that the name is sprayed on in Cosmic Sans only adds to the vibe, and detracts from the realism. Then again, if you take the ending into account, maybe this criticism on the story’s plausibility isn’t fully valid, but I can’t say anymore without spoiling. However it may be, I still think the novella would have been stronger off without the cute stuff – but maybe not as commercially interesting.
That ending is both surprising and typical – and saying more would spoil it, but do not go in suspecting something wild or original. I can understand its divisiveness, but I wasn’t bothered nor thrilled by it: I guess this format needed that particular ending, or otherwise Hutchinson would have had to turn it into a full fledged book. I wasn’t bothered, but I don’t think it was fully satisfactory either, since it only raised more questions on plausibility: this review asks valid questions, but spoils it, so click at your own risk.
This is very much a plot oriented page turner, characters are fun and thin. That’s okay – a limited amount of pages will only get you so far when you need to build a new world too, especially if that world is the raison d’être for your story.
Unlike some other reviewers, I’m not sure it would be an interesting future universe to revisit in another book: most of Hutchinson’s ideas concerning it seem to have been well covered in the novella already. I doubt there’s a lot more to mine, especially not with these characters, and the plausibility concerns. Moreover, it could easily turn into a kind of neo-gothic horror SF freakshow stew that annoyingly pushes all the buttons at the same time.
But that’s just speculation, and judged by itself, Acadie is a solid read. The prose does the job, the story’s construction is engaging. It’s intelligent, but not pretentious. Entertainment first, yes, but not exactly transparent Hollywood SF either. 3 out of 5 stars seems about right.
I hope Hutchinson will write more space opera in the future. Who else is going to pick up the baton – after Reynolds dropped it in the cesspool of commercial trite?