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TPG reviews: Other Systems, by Elizabeth Guizzetti

May 25, 2013

It takes a while to get going, but Other Systems ultimately delivers.  Recommended.

Without an influx of human DNA, the utopian colony on Kipos has eleven generations before it reaches failure. Earth is over ninety light years away. Time is short.


On the over-crowded Earth, many see opportunity in Kipos’s need. After medical, intelligence, and physiological testing, Abby and her younger siblings, Jin and Orchid, are offered transportation. Along with 750,000 other strong immigrants, they leave the safety of their family with the expectation of good jobs and the opportunity for higher education.

While the Earthlings travel to the new planet in stasis, the Kiposi, terrified the savages will taint their paradise, pass a series of indenture and adoption laws in order to assimilate them.

When Abby wakes up on Kipos, Jin cannot be found. Orchid is ripped from her arms as Abby is sold to a dull-eyed man with a sterilized wife. Indentured to breed, she is drugged and systematically coerced. To survive, Abby learns the differences in culture and language using the only thing that is truly hers on this new world: her analytical mind. In order to escape her captors, she joins a planetary survey team where she will discover yet another way of life.

I’ll be honest: at first, I didn’t think that me and this book were going to see eye-to-eye.  The book opens abruptly – too abruptly, for my tastes – to a suicide aboard the starship Antria, captained by Cole Alekos.  Much exposition follows: Cole and his family are Homo Khlôrosans, the results of Kiposi genetic experimentation, who by law must be sterilized if they wish to live in Kiposi territory.  After a whirlwind tour of Cole’s family, the narrative switches to Abby’s perspective over on Earth, which has become heavily overpopulated and ridden with poverty.  Little of note proceeds to happen.  After several pages of this, I put down my Kindle; an hour or so later, I couldn’t even remember the protagonist’s name.

Not exactly the best of starts, then.

As I kept reading, however, things quickly picked up.  Ships from Kipos, a long-forgotten human colony, arrive in search of volunteers willing to go back to their colony and stabilise its plummeting population.  Abby and her siblings pass the colonists’ tests and are offered passage to the supposedly-utopian society; when they arrive, they are quickly separated and…well, go ahead and read the above blurb if you haven’t already.

In case you couldn’t tell, this book is not the lightest of reading material.  The first half in particular is downright depressing, with Abby living as little more than breeding stock for a wealthy Kiposi household.  Stockholm syndrome rapidly sets in, though this is never portrayed in a good light; on the contrary, Abby is consistently ignored and/or abused by almost everyone around her.  This goes for well over one hundred pages, at which point Abby finally manages to flee.

Via sheer fluke, Abby finds herself working on the Revelation, an exploration vessel captained by Cole’s son, Harden.  This, in my mind at least, is where Other Systems truly hits its stride.

The rest of the book follows Abby’s development as she tries to overcome her past traumas and adapt to life on the Revelation, with the illegality of her presence acting as an ever-present source of conflict and concern.  Her relationships with the rest of the crew become a major part of the novel, and every one of them was written with finesse.  At no point did any developments feel forced and unbelievable, and all of the crew members were well-rounded and likable.

Out of all the Revelation’s crew, Harden himself was the one who stuck out for me the most.  Harden is a rather insular individual who sees himself as a scientist first and a captain second.  While he clearly cares for the people around him, he struggles socially and it takes Abby a long time to completely get used to him.  Harden was a particularly well-written character in a cast of well written characters, and pretty much every scene involving him was a treat to read.

Much of Abby’s work comes to involve investigating and cataloguing unexplored planets, in the hopes of both finding a source of income for her crew and a place for the Kipos’ genetic experiments to live away from its reach.  All of these planets are described in loving detail and Guizzetti has clearly put a lot of effort into making them seem real.  Worldbuilding nuts will have an absolute field day.

Another thing worthy of mention is the book’s handling of time dilation.  This proves to be a complex issue for Abby, as friends and family still on Kipos age much quicker than she does.  As with everything else, this issue is dealt with both believably and effectively.

Finally, I think I should say a few words about the ending.  This book’s ending was a satisfying one, with Abby’s problems wrapped up in a way which left me feeling genuinely happy for her.  At the same time however, much room is left for potential sequels.  I look forward to seeing whether Guizzetti decides to return to this universe at any point in the future.

Other Systems is well written, well plotted and, indeed, very good in general.  At $1.17, it’s a complete steal.  If you’re a science fiction fan then you really ought to give this a look.  For that matter, if you’re not a SF fan then there are certainly far worse ways to get into the genre.  Had it not been for some slight pacing issues, this could well have been my first five-out-of-five review.  Definitely worth a read.


PS: The author also runs an active blog right here on WordPress.  Find it here.

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