Book Review: Paradise-1 by David Wellington
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Paradise-1 by David Wellington
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Series: Book 1 of Red Space
Publisher: Orbit Books (April 4, 2023)
Length: 688 pages
Author Information: Website | Twitter
I’m of two minds about Paradise-1 by David Wellington. On the one hand, I liked it better than his last book I read, The Last Astronaut. The premise was definitely more to my liking, but the book also suffered from some of the same issues as well as uneven pacing.
Despite the urgency implied by the publisher description, the story also does not in fact begin under such harrowing circumstances. Protagonist Lt. Alexandra Petrova of the Firewatch is first introduced when the story opens on Ganymede, where we find her in pursuit of a dangerous serial killer. When the mission ends in disaster, she is unceremoniously exiled to Paradise-1, a nascent colony on a distant planet. On the day of her departure, she discovers that the vessel transporting her only has two other human passengers—Dr. Zhang Lei, a socially awkward researcher who is haunted by his past, and Sam Parker, the ship’s pilot and a former lover of Alexandra’s. Joining them is also an artificial intelligence in a fabricated body named Rapscallion who will be overseeing ship functions and life support while the humans are placed in cryosleep for the long journey.
As their ship makes its final approach on Paradise-1, however, they are ambushed by a mysterious vessel. Lieutenant Petrova, Dr. Zhang, and Parker are literally shaken out of their pods, waking up to almost complete destruction. They also learn that their ship’s AI is corrupted and trying to reboot itself in an endless loop, while communications sent to the colony are going unanswered, leading to a desperate race against time to find out why. What could be affecting the human colonists on Paradise-1 as well as their onboard AI, making both behave in such an erratic, hostile manner? And in the meantime, the crew still has to figure out how to survive the relentless attack from the hostile ship.
First, the good: Character development was superb. From the beginning, Paradise-1 presented a captivating study of Alexandra Petrova, who has spent her life living in the shadow of her mother, a woman both revered and reviled. In essence, their complex relationship is key to everything that happens. Trying to live up to her mother’s expectations is what got Alexandra into Firewatch in the first place, and what eventually led to her downfall were her attempts to quell rumors of nepotism. Later, we find out that her mother had also gone to Paradise-1. As they say, the plot thickens.
My favorite character though, was Dr. Zhang. While many of the reasons are spoilers, what I can say is that he intrigued me the moment he was introduced in that awkward conversation with Petrova, and then grew steadily on me since. One of the highlights was watching him come out of his shell after suffering a traumatic incident at one of his past research labs, discovering the key role he plays in the disaster at Paradise-1, and seeing him come to trust his crewmates.
Paradise-1 was also much more frightening and intense in tone compared to The Last Astronaut. The story blends two of my favorite space horror tropes, killer AI and extraterrestrial viruses. Considering how our world has recently come out of a pandemic and is now debating the ethics and possible dangers of burgeoning AI technology, these topics seem fitting somehow. Wellington takes all the uncertainty surrounding these discussions and uses it to great effect.
As for the not-so-good: Pacing. Pacing, pacing, and pacing, especially when we are also trying to cram the drama of character backstories in between bouts of action. It wreaked havoc with the flow of the plot, resulting in many lulls. Then there was the question of whether this book needed to be 700 pages, arguably much too long considering its repetitive nature. While there were several arcs comprising this story, they all followed a similar pattern of scouting out a derelict ship, encountering the horror of what has become of their hapless occupants, confirming what we already know. This happened no less than three times, and little progression was made after the first. Worse, each time we lost a little more of the mystery and fear as impatience grew. To add insult to injury, the book also ended on a somewhat brutal cliffhanger, a final slap in the face.
What’s frustrating is that, without these problems, Paradise-1 would have been an amazing book. To be fair, the good still outweighed the bad, but although there were plenty of things I loved, I cannot give this on more than a middling rating due to the pacing issues. While I do want to pick up the sequel to find out what happens, if it turns out to be another 700+ page doorstopper…well, I may have to reconsider.
Wow, I can’t believe you rated this so well. The ending pissed me off so much that I had to rewrite my review twice because I just started swearing about it 😂 Glad you at least enjoyed it somewhat! Let me know how the 2nd is?
I think I’ve become inured to cliffhangers, they piss me off waaaaaaay less than they used to, lol
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I’m glad for you that you enjoyed it more than I did, despite the uneven pacing and the repetitions. I second Will’s request to let us know how the story progresses, since I strongly doubt I will pick up book 2… 😉
Thanks for sharing!
Well, hopefully the second book won’t be such a doorstopper!
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Uneven pacing..yeah I could not deal with that now
That’s hard to deal with any day, honestly.
I’ve seen some terrible ratings for this book, and I honestly expected your rating to be lower. But I’m glad you found positive things about it. I’m still trying to fit it into my schedule, but with every less than enthusiastic review, it’s harder to do, lol.
I had tempered my expectations after seeing the reviews, so maybe that saved me, lol. But despite its faults, I really didn’t think it was that bad! It was quite entertaining for most of it, I just wish it wasn’t so long because I think the length hurt it.
Glad this worked out much better than his previous book but the pacing does sound frustrating. Great honest thoughts, Mogsy. 🙂
You’re welcome, and thank you for checking out the review!
I clearly enjoyed The Last Astronaut more than you did – but thanks to your excellent and fair-minded review, I’m not going near this one:). That repeating plot loop dynamic is known to be a newbie’s writing mistake – and shame on his editor for not picking it up and putting a stop to it. Especially as the book sounds far too bloated as a result. What a pity – as there is clearly plenty here to celebrate.
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Yeah it was too bad about the repetitive narrative loop. It reminded me of those old video games which required you to go to a bunch of places but essentially do the same quests – I think we’re all past that now!
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Naming the AI Rapscallion does immediately give the impression of impending doom. 🙂 Too bad to hear about the pacing issues, something that can kill such a long book.
Ah, good old Rapscallion! He was definitely a bright spot of humor!