Bright of the Sky

by Kay Kenyon

Cover image

Series: Entire and Rose #1
Publisher: Pyr
Copyright: 2007
ISBN: 1-59102-541-9
Format: Kindle
Pages: 450

Buy at Powell's Books

Bright of the Sky starts promisingly enough. Humans have developed an interstellar travel technology called Kardashev tunnels, which appear to be some sort of wormholes. These tunnels are maintained by AIs (called machine sapients here), and the book opens with one of those AIs going runaway. I was a bit dubious that, with the paranoia about runaway AIs in this universe due to a previous incident, a junior staff member could cause this with a homework assignment on extragalactic particles, but the rest of the background was still good enough to hold my attention.

Unfortunately, this bit of background has very little to do with the main story. The extragalactic particles are the hook for discovery of a parallel dimension, or, more accurately, confirmation: an interstellar pilot named Titus Quinn disappeared with his family in the middle of Kardashev tunnel travel some years ago, and then turned up on a remote planet without much of his memory and with a wild story about having been in another universe. The runaway sapient provides confirmation that his story may not have been that wild, and Bright of the Sky is about his return to this alternate dimension. His employer, the Minerva corporation, wants him to scout a path through it as a safer form of travel, since the Kardashev tunnels are increasingly unstable. Titus wants to find his wife and daughter.

Unfortunately, as you might guess from that description and knowledge of how these stories usually go in SF, this alternate dimension is fuzzily faux-medieval. That means a story that starts out with some interesting SF grounding turns into a typical fantasy traveling quest, sending Titus wandering around a world trying to make allies and find clues of the fate of his wife and daughter. There are a few SFnal aspects to this world that are mentioned in reviews: a land mass that's supposedly interstellar in size (although the story never shows that well), a burning sky, rivers of exotic matter that serve as a transportation system, and giant walls that form the boundary of this constructed space. There are also some mildly interesting aliens populating this world alongside human analogues, including capricious and powerful aliens who apparently built it and rule it with an iron fist. The problem with all of these elements is that, to bring them alive and elevate this book above a tedious travelogue, they need awe-inspiring descriptions. And the descriptions and scene-setting in Bright of the Sky are not up to the task.

I hate to say this, because I liked some of the background ideas, but I have rarely read an SF novel that was this bad at providing any sense of place and surroundings. This novel gave me little or no mental image of anything: scenery, setting, even the supposedly awe-inspiring artifacts that the characters run into. There just isn't adequate description. It's not vivid, it's not specific, it doesn't provide the reader with enough material to orient themselves, and even major features of the world Titus finds himself in never cohere. About the only element of the Entire that I felt like I could picture was the strange sky. How can you have a transportation system built on rivers of exotic material and never memorably describe them? It's a baffling flaw for an SF novel that wants to invoke sense of wonder.

The lack of description isn't due to the author erring on the side of terseness, either. Bright of the Sky meanders, sprawls, and idles. There is nowhere close to 450 pages of actual action in this book and little memorable writing. Instead, there are 450 pages of Titus acting like an ass, constantly rehashing his inner emotional turmoil, or having long and elliptical conversations with people about nothing in particular. It is, in short, boring. There are whole side quests in Titus's story that do little or nothing to advance the story, and, due to the lack of description, don't flesh out the world either.

The one part of Bright of the Sky that works is the thread focusing on Titus's daughter Sydney, who is living in a semi-autonomous part of the world as a rider for horse-like creatures. It's ironic that the best descriptions in the book are from a blind protagonist. Kenyon does a wonderful job giving the reader a sense of open plains, the feel of Sydney's mount, and the fear and chaos of fights without sight, although even here I never got a good sense of the indoor spaces. Sydney is also the best character in the book: by turns brave, despairing, and defiant, with little touches like her diary adding a great deal of depth. If the whole book were like this, it would be a much better book, but unfortunately it's just one side plot, and the contrast is startling. One is always delighted to see more of Sydney, and disappointed to have to go back to Titus and his muddled world of overanalyzed actions against indistinct backdrops.

This book isn't a complete loss, mostly because of Sydney, but it's close. The writing is mechanically bad: padded, meandering, insufficiently descriptive, insufficiently vivid, and riddled with cliches and stock phrases. There are some good ideas, particularly in the world-building, that would have been fun in a better-written book, but without description and sense of wonder they fall flat. Kenyon does do a good job with characters, keeping them memorable and distinguishable and giving them their own motives and personalities, and it's unfortunate that the primary protagonist is one of the least interesting characters in the book. I enjoyed several of the minor characters, and there's some heavy lifting of characterization towards the end that was disturbing but effective. But the generic search plot doesn't help, and none of this, not even Sydney, is worth slogging through the writing.

Bright of the Sky is free on the Kindle, so the price is right if you want to give it a try. Other reviewers liked it quite a bit more than I do, and the series as a whole apparently goes interesting places. My advice would be to read the first couple of chapters, if you think you may be interested, and see what you think of the writing. If it feels adequately descriptive and doesn't feel padded, you may enjoy the whole book. If you're dubious, be warned that the writing gets worse, not better.

Followed by A World Too Near.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Reviewed: 2012-01-17

Last modified and spun 2017-05-14