Hard science fiction at its best, flush with rich themes and sharp innovation.
‘Author, swordswoman, and falconer. Sound designer for SFF films at Skywalker Sound, with credits in movies such as Doctor Strange and Avengers: Endgame,’ reads Essa Hansen’s Meet the Author page. With such a varied resume, it’s small wonder that her debut novel Nophek Gloss crackles with fresh, diverse creativity. It is hard science fiction at its best, flush with rich themes and sharp innovation.
Hansen tends to keep the book’s descriptions concise, yet it took me twice as long to read as other books of its length as I often paused to re-read passages in order to fully digest each sentence. This allowed for me to visualize it all in my mind, savoring each scene like a chef’s tasting menu. Speaking of menus, make sure you have a full stomach before diving into this one, as there’s plenty of mouth-watering space foods that might make you want to snack-read to an unhealthy degree. Or so I’ve heard.
The book covers a lot of ground, approaching various topics with care. Inclusivity and fluidity are underlying themes, and gender identity is often spotlighted as one character is able to shift genders and appearances at will. Body augmentation elevates these discussions into new areas to consider. Other areas the story addresses include examining maturity of the body versus the mind, doing bad things for the right reasons, deferring versus coping with grief, fear and acceptance, and the advancement of technology versus the shortcomings of humanity.
But don’t get hung up on just the heavy themes. There’s plenty of badass action scenes, eldritch beings, morphing coats, pleachroic everything, and a bleeping spaceship capable of creating its own universe on command.
For as detailed a world as Hansen creates, she is careful with exposition. I was not aware there was a glossary included, but I highly recommend avoiding it unless absolutely necessary, as I had much more fun unpacking the intricacies of the story’s multiverse on my own. Scene settings and descriptions are often no more than a line or two, delivered in a subtle, yet decorous prose. Complex life forms are rendered with just enough sketches of detail to balance with the user’s imagination. Scenes of lilies make repeated visits. ‘Shipping and fan art is inevitable.
There were a couple of plot points where I felt the characters’ behaviors were a bit of a stretch. One or two instances I asked myself if I thought those moments felt genuine. There is also a lot of information to absorb, between its world-building, characters, science terminology, and other topics. It is not the easiest of reads, but the more time you spend in its multiverse, the more rewarding it will be.
Plus, this book is just so damn COOL. I mean… that cover, right? Mike Heath’s art and Lauren Panepinto’s design sets the tone for the entire story: sleek, futuristic, and grim, with promises of light peeking through its dark tone.
I don’t think Nophek Gloss is a book for everyone, as it leans heavily into its themes that some may find a bit too grim or divisive. But if you’re like me—someone who thrives on challenging and imaginative stories that push the boundaries of thought and imagination—then this debut is a can’t-miss.
Review by Adam Weller
9.3/10 from 1 reviews
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