RICH MAN'S SKY Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace blasts-off into a Rich Man's Sky.
Rich Man’s Sky is a book that I feel that could be easily misrepresented, even by those simply perusing a Barnes & Noble shelf in the science fiction section (far too small as it is, usually). Its cover, to put it bluntly, looks downright salacious. The basic plot description would not exactly discourage that particular impression. It is what many have unfairly stereotyped as Baen Books’ sole trade, the worst common denominator of the science fiction and fantasy genre.

I encourage any potential reader of Wil McCarthy’s most recent novel to be more open-minded than tawdry, bawdy stereotypes may imply. Rich Man’s Sky is, in actuality, a wicked smart near-future science fiction novel about class and inequality with the rigor of a Kim Stanley Robinson doorstopper and the pure wonder and thrill of an Allen Steele novel.

The plot concerns a female officer in the United States Air Force who is officially being discharged from service, but is in reality being blasted off into space to infiltrate a satellite run by a latter-day robber baron reminiscent of the likes of Elon Musk who is building a screen-like construct in space that could hypothetically blot out the sun’s rays. This robber baron is also trying to build his own society up there, which is why he puts such a high premium on attracting young women with technical knowledge; all come aboard after signing a contract that they will bear children.

As I said, it’s a premise that sounds, on the surface, misogynistic and base. McCarthy, however, is interested in engaging far more sophisticated parts of the human mind. What ensues is partially a political thriller and partially a Golden Age-style science fiction yarn that feels like something edited by John W. Campbell but with better characterization. That characterization is, thankfully, one of the great strengths of the novel. Your main character is complex and nuanced enough to tackle the rather odd situation she finds herself in as she does her country’s bidding.

(A side note - the main character is Korean-American, and early on in the book she has to deal with her immigrant mother. As a Filipino-American with a similar immigrant mother, I found the depiction to ring very true, so kudos to McCarthy for getting that right)

The book does a particularly good job of depicting the lives of the one percent. There’s a very real neurosis, perhaps even a gambling addiction, that seems to define their lives; the billionaire whose machinations define the story is perhaps trying to find an answer to “what do you give to a man who has everything?” so that he can find his own fulfillment. From there, you see all the odd endeavors that the rich in the near future may involve themselves in, from extreme sports to an odd involvement with a monastery on the Moon (heavily reminiscent of Cy Kellett’s novel Ad Limina).

Rich Man’s Sky is a wild spaceship ride through the future, and through the realm of the ultra-wealthy. I really need to read more of McCarthy’s work if he can consistently produce work of this quality.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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