Corinne Duyvis’ 2016 young adult novel On the Edge of Gone is the first of the author’s novels that I have encountered. It will not be the last.
There will be spoilers.…
Life in mid-21st Century Netherlands with her drug-addicted mother is already challenging enough for autistic teen Denise. She really didn’t need to deal with the end of the world as we know it, courtesy of an impending cometary impact1. The Netherlands is a civilized nation and they have not simply abandoned their population to survive or die as change determines. Instead, the government built a network of shelters2.
If only Denise and her mother were in a shelter. If only her mother had not insisted on waiting for Denise’s sister Iris to join them before setting out. Now there is no time to make it to their designated shelter.
An act of charity towards an injured neighbour provides mother and daughter with an unexpected huddling place: a still unlaunched generation ship. Unready to launch with the rest of the fleet fleeing for a distant double-planet, the great ship grudgingly allows Denise and her mother to wait out the immediate aftermath of the impact within its protective walls.
The journey through space will take a century or more. The ship will only launch with six hundred passengers: those who will keep the ship functioning and their immediate dependents. There is no room for charity cases. Once the ship is ready to launch, Denise and her mother will have to leave.
Unless Denise can somehow convince the captain she is useful, despite her mother’s best efforts to sabotage Denise.
In typical Nicoll fashion, I will start with the worldbuilding.
It’s really difficult to reconcile “able to build and launch a fleet of generation ships in a very short time” with “unable to detect and divert a comet in the same time.”
That aside, the author did (eventually) deal with a couple of issues that were really bothering me through most of the book.
The first is that the ship in no way gives the impression of being able to survive the long trip ahead of it. As I read, I cringed to think that Denise was working so hard to earn her place on the ship when that ship was doomed, I tell you, doomed! The author does deal with the issue satisfactorily3.
The second issue is that even after being knocked about by a comet, the Earth is still likely to be the most habitable planet available from a human perspective. It’s traditional in SF for characters to abandon the Earth on the least excuse. In this case, even leaving aside the ship’s lack of preparedness, it is not at all clear that using its resources to flee to worlds whose suitability for humans is unproven is the most sensible use of those resources. But this too is handled satisfactorily.
I fear readers looking for a comfortingly pallid, culturally and religiously homogeneous vision of a futuristic Netherlands will be bitterly disappointed. Denise is biracial, as is her transsexual sister Iris. Duyvis’ Netherlands is diverse; this is reflected in the survivors Denise encounters. Of course, a lot of them do belong to one specific demographic — their odds of dying of old age are very poor — but otherwise no one particular group dominates.
Interestingly, given that the author has no trouble allowing characters the luxury of selfish, short-sighted choices, this is a surprisingly anti-Hobbesian post-apocalypse novel. People become angry at each other; often there are not enough resources to go around. Despite this, interpersonal violence is virtually absent from the novel. To a fair degree, the survivors behave like the people of Fort McMurray and San Francisco after the quake of 1989 : they do their best to survive as a group, rather than immediately collapsing into a war of all against all.
I had never heard of Corinne Duyvis before I encountered On the Edge of Gone. On the strength of this novel, I will definitely be tracking down the rest of her work. If only she had more than two novels in print.…
On the Edge of Gone can be purchased here.
1: Weird thing about cometary impacts. The math says they should happen, and at what rate they should happen. The physical evidence that comets have actually hit Earth is oddly lacking. There is a heap of evidence that asteroids and meteorites have hit earth, repeatedly, often with devastating consequences. Comets … not so much. Maybe once.
2: Admittedly, the shelters range from posh (which is where the King ended up) to too frail to survive the impact (so that at least the people inside won’t drown when the ocean rolls in).
3: The question of how it is we are able to build generation ships at all by the 2030s is never addressed.