Release: January 17th 2017
Received: Won (Goodreads Giveaways)
The Fortress at the End of Time is a science fiction novel, without all the battles and intense moments. That makes it sound tedious, and to some it may be, but I found it to be a very enjoyable read. It’s almost an introspective read on the psychological burden of living on the edge of space with no hope of going anywhere or upgrading your way of life.
I’ll cover the warnings first: Suicide is talked about frequently in this novel. Many side characters commit suicide due to the desolation of their posting. While none of them are directly witnessed by the main character, a couple of them are described somewhat graphically.
Ronaldo Aldo is just a man from Earth wanting to do his job and fly spaceships, so it would see fortunate that these are one and the same. This desire results in him being cloned out onto an isolated superfluous post, the Citadel, where he will help them watch for the long gone enemy. You’ll notice I mentioned he was cloned – candidates are picked on Earth for cloning, where their data/DNA/memories are then transported through ansible to their new location, leaving the original on Earth. I don’t love clone stories, but we hardly ever hear from the original again, so that negates most of my complaints right there.
While on the Citadel Aldo finds himself immediately isolated and even despised. This is a survival technique for the crew apparently, as the suicide rate is as high as one in four. This slightly broke the immersion for a bit for me, as I couldn’t understand why people thought isolation would help the suicide rate at all (I get that they were doing it to protect themselves as opposed to the newbie, but it was still a little upsetting and confusing for me to see). The best case scenario for any of the people on board is for them to retire (with a decent savings) to the local planet which is hosting a small colony. One can see why many become despondent with this situation.
The desperation leads Aldo to do something condemnable and slightly unbalanced, a fact he admits right off the bat, as the whole novel is sort of a retelling from his perspective. I have trouble not sympathizing with Aldo, even though I do not agree with some of his decisions. It was disorienting to see how many characters dislike him or found him arrogant, but then it occurred to me we were seeing everything from his eyes (or more accurately, from his words) so there’s going to be some bias there. That being said – I enjoyed the steady and gradual build up to the reveal of what he did. Not only did it make the world feel more real, but it helped to show just how slowly time passes out there.
I was utterly enthralled with this read. I know I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to science fiction novels, so sometimes a good one for me is far and few between. Therefore I get insanely excited when I find one. It feels odd saying I got excited for a book with such a slow buildup, but it’s true.
The details McDemott added in, such as the minimal resources and the political/religious system were really quite brilliant. It brought the world to life, and genuinely made you care about the conclusion. It makes you wonder how much of Aldo’s plan was actually thought out. Clearly he didn’t think about the events following his actions.
I haven’t read anything by McDermott before this, his Goodreads profile doesn’t list any other novels, but I can safely say I intend to follow his work from now on. I think he’s an author worth watching.