Audiobook Review: Arkwright by Allen Steele
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Audiobook Publisher: Audible Studios (March 1, 2016)
Length: 11 hrs and 21 mins
Author Information: Website
Narrator: Stephen Bel Davies
First thing I did after finishing this book was go to YouTube and pump my fists to the main theme of Star Trek Enterprise. I know that opening sequence has long been divisive among Trek fans, but personally? I love it. The feelings that song stirs–that glowing hope and belief in humanity’s ability to venture forth into the great unknown through their own tenacity and sheer determination–is perfectly suited to the show’s themes and, as it happens, this book as well. Arkwright is the story of how one man’s dream became a reality, a truly inspirational saga spanning generations amidst familial crises, political roadblocks, technological limitations and many other seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Throughout it all, one family’s conviction endures, its members steadfastly facing down every single kind of challenge in the course of the many centuries it takes to achieve their goal. It’s been a long road getting from there to here indeed.
Interestingly, Arkwright opens with its eponymous character dying. Considered along with Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke to be one of the twentieth century’s most seminal science fiction authors, Nathan Arkwright passes away quietly in his New England home where he’d spent most of the last two decades living as a relative recluse. His death, however, is just the beginning. His granddaughter Kate, who’d never gotten the chance to know her famous grandfather when he was alive, decides to attend the funeral and pay her respects. This is how she ends up meeting three of Nathan’s oldest friends and finding out all about her grandfather’s secret project: The Arkwright Foundation.
Concerned about humanity’s future in the event of any extinction-level threats to the world, Nathan had decided many years ago that building a starship for long-distance space travel and colonization is the only hope our species has for survival. Not trusting to the bureaucracy of government agencies to make this happen, he had established his own non-profit organization to do the research and work required, and left the foundation his entire fortune plus all future royalties earned from his books. Now that he is gone, it is up to his family and friends to carry on his vision.
One might find it a little strange, that the death of your most crucial character happens in the book’s very first scene. But in truth, it makes perfect sense. Nathan may be the father of the Arkwright Foundation, but his idea is much bigger than any one person. He never expected to live to see his dream come true, and in fact, not even his granddaughter Kate or Kate’s own grandchildren would see it come to fruition. This is a project generations in the making, and Allen Steele brings us back to the past and forward to the future to show how all the characters in Nathan’s family line are united in this one goal through time and distance. The narrative explores Nathan’s own youth and then moves forward through the decades as each generation grows up, gets married, has children. With so many changes in perspective, no sooner had I gotten to know one set of characters than we were jumping forward to time again to follow another. I should have found this format frustrating, but to my surprise, I didn’t. Once I saw Nathan Arkwright’s legacy as a “character” in its own right, I started to understand why Steele decided to write the story this way.
I was also surprised at what an uplifting book this ended up being. Let’s face it; generation ship stories are seldom happy stories, a fact that’s even pointed out by one of the book’s characters. But Arkwright is a very different kind of generation ship story, and one can even argue it’s not even a generation ship story at all, since so much of it takes place on earth following the work of Nathan’s descendants. Oh sure, the scientists and researchers of the Arkwright Foundation end up coming up with solutions to some of the technological challenges posed by long-distance space travel, but at its heart, Arkwright is also a story about the personal lives of the individual characters. In every section, we see how each person is affected by the weight of Nathan’s legacy, making this one a very heartfelt human story.
While I reviewed the audiobook, I can see Arkwright working well in both print and audio formats. Because this is a generations-spanning story featuring multiple characters with their own sections though, I was surprised they went with only one narrator. It just felt like such a missed opportunity, since having a couple more readers on board might have made this even a fuller experience. Nonetheless, narrator Stephen Bel Davies held his own, bringing a diverse cast of characters to life. This audiobook ended up being a very fast listen because I was just so addicted to the story.
All told, I was so glad I decided to give Arkwright a try. The cover and description didn’t initially grab me, and I almost gave it a pass until some of the fascinating reviews convinced me to give it a shot after all. And now, I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being on my list of favorite books for 2016. The ending even left me a bit teary-eyed. What a total gem of a sci-fi novel, an incredibly touching and inspirational story about humankind’s journey to reach for the stars.
Story: | Performance: | Overall: