Review: A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
Series: Book 1 of A History of What Comes Next
Publisher: Hardcover: Tor.com | Audibook: Macmillan Audio (February 2, 2021)
Length: HC: 304 pages | Audio: 9 hrs and 22 mins
A strange yet intriguing version of the space race is retold in this first installment of Sylvain Neuvel’s Take Them to the Stars trilogy, an alternate history following the lives of several generations of women from a family of otherworldly beings. Sara and Mia are the latest members in a long line of Kibsu, an all-female society whose ancient origins are believed to go way back beyond the dawn of human civilization. Since then, a team consisting of a mother and her daughter, identical in their genetic makeup, has existed with the sole purpose to shape and influence humanity with the end goal of helping them reach the stars, else an evil which has been hunting them for millennia will catch up and kill them all.
The ninety-ninth generation, Mia finds herself traveling to Germany in the mid-1940s on a secret mission to recruit aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun as part of Operation Paperclip, an American program to secure the space race. Soon after though, her mother Sara fears that the age-old enemies of the Kibsu, known as the Trackers, are dangerously close to discovering their location, forcing them to flee to Moscow. There, the pair begin a new undertaking to aid the Russian space program, hoping that this would also send the United States scrambling to develop their own rockets. Time, however, is running out in more ways than one. Humanity is close to making a breakthrough, but the Trackers are also hot on the women’s trail. Furthermore, Sara knows that a new generation must be created if their mission is to continue, but there can never be more than two Kibsu for long. While Mia understands what needs to be done, her heart breaks at the idea of giving up everything for duty, not to mention she is not yet ready to lose her mother.
It’s an interesting premise, to be sure. That said, if you’re the kind of reader who prefers their stories with clear, logical plot progression and convincing explanations, A History of What Comes Next will probably not be your cup of tea. To start, if you were reading my summary and wondered what the motives of the Kibsu might be, you’re sadly not going to get much more beyond what I’ve already outlined. As for their origins, the whys and hows are foggy at best, and not even the many flashbacks sprinkled throughout the narrative were able to provide much clarity. Ultimately, one gets the sense you’re not supposed to ask too many questions, since the characters themselves are unsure of the answers.
On a positive note though, the ideas in this book were very unique. Neuvel incorporates real events, writing about everything from the post-WWII period to the tail end of the space race with an eye towards detail, a point which should win a lot of favor with historical fiction fans. At the same time, he’s also weaving in the supernatural and other speculative elements which fantasy and science fiction fans should eat right up. Of course, given that the overlap between these two groups is going to be much narrower, the question is whether this novel will find an audience, and here’s where I think things get a little trickier.
As well, I can see the story’s format being an obstacle for some, for not only does the book’s structure employ multiple perspectives with flashbacks, the writing style is also somewhat reminiscent of the author’s Themis Files trilogy, unfolding mostly in dialogue. It’s a gutsy move, since so much could go wrong, and I confess that during my experimentation with different formats for this novel, I found that the style made for a very poor audiobook experience even with a full cast doing the different voices. Even when reading in print, the prose simply felt too broken up, and because a lot of times we were limited to dialogue, I often felt I was missing out on a ton of context due to a lack of description.
In the end, I am torn. The ideas here were great, and I loved the blend of history and SFF, but the book would have been a richer, fuller experience for me had it been told in a more conventional style. This was a niche read, one that will probably struggle to find wide appeal, though on the other hand, I believe those whom it speaks to will absolutely adore it. There’s definitely potential here, a chance for this trilogy to grow and become so much more. I guess we shall see with the sequel.