By Hugh Howey
Paperback, 247 pages
The beacons are like lighthouses – lone lights in the vast darkness of space, guiding ships through danger. The beacons are built to last and manning them is an often dull and definitely lonely job. Or at least, it normally is, but for the resident of beacon 23, a retired soldier, things are really starting to get weird.
I was drawn to this book by the cover and my love for Howey’s Wool series, and after only six months I finally picked it up! Hey, if you know me at all, six months is really nothing in comparison to how long some books have sat, unread (but not unloved!), upon my crowded shelves. I’m glad I picked this up because while fairly short, Beacon 23 provides an interesting look at the isolation or space and the mental and physical aftereffects of serving in a war, be it against aliens or humans.
Our hero (he is actually considered a war hero) remains nameless throughout the story and I almost didn’t notice until the very end when I was starting to think about what I would write in my view and realized I didn’t know the protagonist’s name. I think this was the right choice (mostly, because I didn’t pick up on it, so obviously our character’s name is not critical to his story) because it highlights the fact that, regardless of who one is, they can experience the same or similar emotions after having survived a war. This man in a beacon on the edge of a far-off sector of space, fighting against depression and insanity, striving to be alone with his guilt, regrets and fears, yet still craving what little human contact he can get, could be anyone. It’s not his name that matters, but what he experiences throughout the book.
Boy, does he go through a lot! Despite the vastness of space, beacon 23 sees quite a bit of action and our hero narrates his experiences with a healthy dose of sarcasm and cynicism, but also remains honest about what he feels in regards to his actions in the war and how they have affected him. There are times when his view is unreliable, but not because he wants to deceive the reader, but because the lines between reality and fiction have begun to blur for him. One particular scene had me questioning everything he experienced thereafter and I enjoyed the effect of always being on alert and trying to figure out what was actually happening to him.
I especially enjoyed how open our hero is with his emotions. There is a lot of crying in this book and that’s not something I come across often with male protagonists (and it’s not really something I’m desperate for, but considering the subject matter of this book, I felt it was appropriate). Our hero’s views on emotion (in males or females) in times of war and crisis were raw and honest.
The ending was a little too neat and also left me with a few questions, but didn’t lead me to believe there will be any follow-up to this novel, so I’ll be left wondering. However, this was a solid read that I found hard to put down. Great for sci-fi fans, without it being too heavy on the science (ie: just enough jargon for me to feel like Howey knows what he’s talking about, though I can’t prove it).
You can check out Hugh Howey’s website (which not only deals with his books, but also his love of wayfinding and sailing) or find him on Twitter and Instagram (there are lots of selfies…)