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Far From The World Below

The House of Styx  (Venus Ascendant, volume 1)

By Derek Künsken 

19 Aug, 2021

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2020’s The House of Styx is the first volume in Derek Künsken’s Venus Ascendant series.

The floating colonies high in Venus’ dense atmosphere were intended to be a triumphant example of the strengths of independent Quebec. Triumphant is debatable; the colonies were definitely expensive. When the four thousand colonists agitated for independence, Quebec was happy to let the colonists go.

The colony is technologically advanced but resource constrained and debt-ridden. The colonists are extremely poor. To survive, they must pull together. 

Venus has a literal planet’s worth of resources, but conditions on the surface make directly exploiting the planet impractical. Instead, la colonie makes do with trade and sifting resources out of the air. There is no leeway for people who cannot pull their own weight; medical expenditures per person are limited by expected productivity. 

In the case of an unborn Jean-Eude D’Aquillon, diagnosed with trisomy-21, la colonie assessed his potential as nonexistent. They ordered the D’Aquillons to abort the useless child. When George-Étienne D’Aquillon resisted, la colonie assured him that if he did not comply, his son Jean-Eude would never be allocated medical or food rations. In the years since, the D’Aquillons have pursued their own, independent course, independent of and consequently even poorer than la colonie.

On the plus side! Jean-Eude survived. On the minus: thus far, his mother, as well as a sister and her husband, died thanks to the challenging life Pa D’Aquillon chose. Pa has done the human thing and doubled-down on his intransigence. His surviving children aren’t entirely sure that their Pa made the least bad choice. 

An unexpected discovery on Venus surface offers the D’Aquillons a way out of their poverty trap … if they can somehow keep la colonie or the Bank of Pallas from commandeering it. There is a way, however. All it requires is stealing an entire habitat from la colonie…


This book could be titled Sunk Cost: the Interplanetary Adventure!

Venus was available to Quebec because even by the 23rd century, every other spacefaring community had concluded that Venus was a dead end. Quebec could happily say goodbye to its colony because it had become quite clear that the other spacefaring communities had been correct. Venus seems to be to 23rd century Earth what 10thcentury Greenland was to the Norse: a new home with survival margins that are too narrow for long-term survival. 

Much of the plot is based on that world-building decision. Survival requires carefully husbanding every resource, with no leeway for luxury and very little for error. Many colonists, faced with a life in an environment crafted for joyless workaholics, turn to drug and alcohol abuse, as well as self-harm. This results in problems? Sorry, there’s no help for those who make mistakes (or who are born with problems). 

Happily for the readers but much less happily for the characters, not only are the characters too stubborn to give up on what is clearly a bad idea, it’s not clear that any of them can leave Venus (thanks to debt peonage, among other things). That’s why the D’Aquillons plan a thrilling heist. If they fail? Not just a jail term but a painful death on an implacably hostile world. 

The House of Styx is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).