Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Rating 8.0/10
Very impressive indeed.

Upon receiving this book in the post, my first thoughts culminated into the following short statements:

  • Excellent! Science fiction!
  • Judging by the back cover blurb, this should be quite easy to review.
  • Ah. A story about deep space romance. Probably easier than I first predicted.

Then after reading through a couple of chapters, I quickly decided my initial judging was simplistic and unfair. This was definitely not the simple romance story I had originally thought it would be, but a fast paced, multi-themed, moral searching, energetic thrill ride that I was most certainly going to enjoy.

When I’d finished, I realised that my second thought was absolutely right. This was something right up my alley, something I could really believe in and something connect with. No easy feat I can imagine with a story set in deep space.

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s Glow is definitely a story moulded from already existing science fiction parts. Rather remarkably though she acknowledges this, respects her source material, makes sure that the reader sees these plot ingredients and slowly weaves them to become a completely unique experience. Glow is complicated and surreal, yet Ryan’s writing allows you to use your own moral dilemmas to immerse yourself into an alien universe. Very impressive indeed.

Ryan’s story is centred on two sixteen year old deep space crew members Kieran and Waverley, who are, despite their youth, expected to marry shortly and have their first child. This is to the betterment of the crew of the deep space vessel the ‘Empyrean’, most of whom are leaving a decaying Earth and setting out on their very long journey to another planet dubbed ‘New Earth’. Quite a responsibility awaits them, yet Kieran and Waverley are very much in love and can’t wait to spend their lives together. They are part of the first successful generation of children born in deep space and hope to continue on to New Earth with a growing family and with the hope of creating a new planet to save humanity.

However, as we all know – science fiction is never all that simple. The genre picks up on our fears of society at the time and shuffles it around uncomfortably until we are forced to acknowledge the issue. The Matrix? Our fear of being dependant on machines and losing our identity as humans. The Day the Earth Stood Still? Our collective guilt surrounding the gradual destruction of the planet in its natural state. Blade Runner? Our loss of the human identity or what actually makes us human in the first place. Metropolis? The rising or changing of the classes back in the 1920’s. Alien? The monster version of our fears surrounding sex and sexuality – with a bit of the psychological issues we have about the evil within thrown in there for good measure.

I could seriously go on and on (you know I could), but this science fiction story deals with a different aspect with the human psyche, our responses to the survival instinct, what will happen if we become sterile in the future and how much power can one person can have over many when they attribute their actions and atrocities to their deities and beliefs.

After being addicted to the Crime channel on Sky recently, I have seen some undoubtedly horrific things that supposedly ‘nice and normal’ human beings can do to others. This story tries in a way to delve into our minds and into the deepest, darkest things that we could potentially be capable of under the right circumstances. In this aspect, Ryan does extremely well with her subject matter and impresses in the way she made me feel regarding the actions of some of the crew to survive.

So, as I’ve said, our story is not one of a mission gone according to plan.

The story follows Kieran and Waverley as they come up against another new Earth-bound ship, the ‘New Horizon’ as they violently dock the Empyrean, capture the children of the crew and cripple the ship. Kieran is left behind and tries to re-build the ship, lead the remaining crew and keep on searching for Waverley and the other abductees in a seemingly impossible task. Waverley is taken to the New Horizon and she soon discovers that the emancipated and misguided crew are planning to do something quite horrible to her and the other children...

Ryan’s ‘Glow’ is a story of many layers. On the one hand, you have a literally star-crossed romance and a relentless deep space science fiction adventure. On the other, she intertwines the terrible actions that mankind would certainly do in order to survive - examples of which we will always see in real life i.e. murder, torture, betrayal, rape, killings in the name of a deity and morally judged genetic experimentation. Although showing the darker, more despised actions of humanity she also lovingly includes the best examples of our nature, such as sacrifice for another, bravery, hope for a better future, love and compassion. It is a tale of adversity in the most extreme of settings, and I believe it all comes together pretty well. Her creative insight about how infertility could drive a group of people to madness was certainly a brilliant addition to an already chaotic environment.

What didn’t work for me however was the romance between Waverley and Kieran. The interstellar love triangle was also hard to swallow with the inclusion of another young character, Seth and his evolving power driven insanity. With so much going on around them, I can’t fault Ryan for not expanding a little with their relationship dynamic. This is also part of a planned series as far as I know – so hopefully she can delve into their back story a little bit to give us some much needed depth. Kieran’s story back aboard the Empyrean was greatly overshadowed by what was going on with Waverley aboard the New Horizon, yet I’m not sure if this hinders the story or not. This is definitely her story but in the shorter space of time devoted to Kieran you do start to care about what happens with his character as well as Waverley’s.

What I didn’t get a sense of though, was the time jump between the kidnap and the ending of Glow. By no means as easy thing, Kieran’s character really needed to have shown a transformation during his experience with the rest of the crew. I feel as though his conclusion came quite suddenly and as a result – didn’t quite fit in with his character. I can understand the eventual change to start at the end of a second book, but not the first. It felt a bit rushed, or perhaps the space of time wasn’t made clear enough to the reader.

On a more positive note, Ryan’s pacing and writing style was pretty much spot on. Her language and sentence construction were considerate to the reader, allowing one to take in the simple language – whilst building a complex moral standing within the plot.

With films especially I have an unofficial ‘fifteen minute rule’ whereby if a film does not capture my undivided attention after fifteen minutes, I’ll stop trying and turn it off. In this case, this rule didn’t apply. My imagination was well and truly snared within a chapter or two. I especially admired her ability to make it seem as if the Empyrean and the New Horizon were, for all intents and purposes, working vessels – complete with plausible ways that humans could survive (or not) within deep space. She convinces the reader that the characters we see in the background are all valid and doing their jobs to maintain the inner workings of the ship and crew - unlike Star Trek shows where you know that the gentleman in the red uniform is absent-mindedly pushing meaningless coloured buttons in the background for no reason. As a lot of the science is believable, you tend not to notice the implausibility, especially when it comes to the fact that humans most likely couldn’t survive in deep space just as we cannot survive in deep water for long periods of time. Thanks to Ryan’s writing style, you don’t really notice this either.

Kieran and Waverley as protagonists were actually quite refreshing characters in their own right to start with. They were strong characters with relatable convictions and humble faults – very likeable indeed, which is definitely what someone would need in a world of chaos to make sense of things. The other characters were also quite well thought out, especially the female antagonist who created feelings of understandable hatred when she explains her plans for Waverley. Most of the dictators in history that have committed horrendous atrocities in their pursuit of power have always maintained that their actions only contributed to what they thought was best for the rest of us. It’s exactly the same for this character aboard the New Horizon who uses her power and influence in the name of God to bend the other characters to her will. Manipulative, scheming and ruthless – she is an excellent addition to Ryan’s story.

It was slightly worrying though that most of the older men in the plot indicated themselves as being perverts. In this instance, the reader will most likely trust no characters apart from the children – which could result in alienation for older readers. The adult characters (although not central to the story as much) are very one dimensional, and usually embody one emotion that adds to Kieran or Waverley’s character transformation throughout the story. 
Another confusing element was the moral ambiguity surrounding every character, perhaps making each individual quite difficult to sympathise with. Depending on what kind of person you are, you attach yourself to a different character based on their thoughts and opinions in the story. You could for example connect with Waverley and her thoughts regarding the kidnap. When you read about why the children were kidnapped however, you could sympathise with the crew of the New Horizon. When you discover what happens to Kieran back aboard the Empyrean, you could understand his eventual transformation to the man he becomes at the end of Glow. Due to all of these ambiguous moral tangents of the plot, I feel as though the point of the story lacks a specific direction or anchor if you will. You feel like you’re going everywhere at once instead of having a clear-cut feeling of what is good or what is evil – or where the author wants to take you in the plot. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, you could argue that a story lacking specific direction can be a bit confusing as a reader’s allegiance can lie in another place and not an author’s intended conclusion.

You could also argue though, that life is not always black and white, that being given a choice with our morals is refreshing and that Ryan’s interpretation of very complicated emotions and situations is quite inspired. Ryan’s story is definitely one that deserves your full attention and more importantly, your own interpretation.

Overall, Glow is not just a science fiction drama. It is not just a deep space love story. It is also not just a story about power and religion. It is all of these things, with a dramatic and thrilling twist that I guarantee will keep the reader going until the last page, and immediately want to read the next book. I’m hopeful that Ryan will continue her imaginative and un-relenting space drama in her next book, as I can see a lot of potential for a future beloved young adult classic. So much so, it feels like Glow belongs on screen with the Hunger Games later this year. 
Hopefully we’ll see more of the Skychasers series very soon.

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