Arkwright: Nathan Arkwright is a seminal author of the twentieth century. At the end of his life, he becomes reclusive and cantankerous, refusing to appear before or interact with his legion of fans. Little did anyone know, Nathan was putting into motion his true, timeless legacy.
Convinced that humanity cannot survive on Earth, his Arkwright Foundation dedicates itself to creating a colony on an Earth-like planet several light years distant. Fueled by Nathan’s legacy, generations of Arkwrights are drawn together, and pulled apart, by the enormity of the task and weight of their name. – Goodreads
Arkwright was a beautifully written novel that instantly captivated me. It was a delight to read. When I was reading reviews for the novel, and saw that it had been called a “love letter to science fiction”, I rolled my eyes. But, you know what? It is. Arkwright is a glorious, tender look back at a pivotal time for the science fiction genre. It doesn’t make things out to be all sunshine and rainbows, but it gives a soft reflection on how things developed. Told in a way that mixes true facts with clever fiction, unless you’re a true science fiction aficionado, it’s hard to tell what’s what. It’s also a believable look into the future.
Arkwright addresses the ‘hard’ part of hard science fiction head on, without it getting boring. Many books today (including some great ones like The Last Day of Captain Lincoln) involve generation ships. But how realistic is that? Could we truly create a ship that would be able to protect enough humans to establish a colony? Not only protect it, but have enough space to grow food, to recycle oxygen, and find a way to produce more fuel? Is it possible? Well, yes, most anything is possible. but Arkwright looks at whether it’s a probable solution or not. According to Allen Steele, the answer is “No, it’s not.”
This is not an epic space opera about the lives of the people on board a ship. If you want that, then you need to go read Aurora or Seveneves. Instead, Arkwright is primarily about the people involved in bringing the ship to reality. The driving forces behind those who want to see humanity leave the planet and head for the stars. It’s very much about human interaction and the ‘minutiae’ of science. The unsexy things no one ever talks about in a science fiction survival story. The turnaround time for messages as things get further and further apart. The struggle to continue with a dream after the initial creators are long dead.
The low reviews I’d seen for this novel scared me off of it initially. I’m glad I saw it at the library and decided to give it a go though. Arkwright was a prime example of why you shouldn’t let reviews unduly influence you when it comes to reading choices. Where people called it slow / plodding, I found it perfectly paced to savor. I didn’t mind the fact that there wasn’t a lot of action involved. To me, Allen Steele gave me reality, with just a twist of fantastical at the end. And unlike many others, I rather enjoyed the science versus religion issue in Arkwright and how it was handled. Most likely this is because I’m not religious, but who can say?
Overall, I definitely enjoyed Arkwright and will be searching out further works from this author in the future. Sometimes I want epic journeys, mega disasters, and tons of action. Sometimes, though, I just want a quiet, realistic read about the future that doesn’t manage to depress me.