A novel that begins a series has its own special challenges. It should obviously introduce us to the main series characters, with all the appropriate backstories. But ultimately, it should stand on its own as an individual work while making us look forward to the successive stories.
Comic-book writer and novelist Chris Roberson’s latest science-fiction series starter, FURTHER: BEYOND THE THRESHOLD, introduces us to Capt. RJ Stone, but unfortunately gets so bogged down in exposition that we almost lose interest.
Stone was the commanding officer of a spaceship whose mission was to explore worlds that could sustain human life a century after an asteroid destroyed an entire nation on Earth. During his cryogenic suspension, his ship veers far off-course. The ship is finally found and Stone, the soul survivor, is awakened some thousands of years into the future.
He discovers that Earth is now the center of the Human Entelechy, a vast network of planets and other habitats connected over thousands of light years by a series of wormholes. Science and technology have advanced to the point where Stone must seriously redefine his concept of “human.”
Eventually, Stone learns that the Entelechy has a new role in mind for him: He is to be the captain of the FTL Further, a spacecraft able to travel faster than the speed of light. The first mission for him and his diverse crew is to investigate a distant pulsar for what appears to be signs of intelligent life.
Roberson’s imagination and creativity is seemingly boundless — so much so that he can’t resist filling his futuristic world with an endless series of far-flung innovations, advancements and speculative concepts. They are all thought-provoking, and — no doubt owing to Roberson’s experience writing for the comics — highly visual and often downright surreal.
Trouble is, they all take a long, long time to explain. The author has obviously done an impressive amount of science and engineering research to back up his assorted extrapolations and wants to share them all with his readers. So it isn’t until we get past the first 100 pages that we finally know Stone’s mission. But even after this is revealed, we first must get acquainted with the massive design and operation of the ship itself for another several chapters.
The saving grace amid all these details is Stone himself. Following the initial shock upon his waking, he stoically resigns to his futuristic Rip Van Winkle role, and Roberson uses Stone’s first-person narration to occasionally share his personal reactions to the changes surrounding him.
In the last quarter of the novel, Roberson finally gets the FTL Further off the launchpad and treats us to some good ol’ space opera action and suspense. It’s perhaps the closest we get to what the series has in store; yet it isn’t until the very last line of the epilogue that Stone declares, “We were on our way into the future.”
Well … he sure takes his sweet time to get there! Now Roberson has to work doubly hard to convince us that forthcoming adventures of Capt. Stone and his cohorts will be worth the effort. —Alan Cranis