The Fortress at the End of Time, by Joe M. McDermott
Description : (from Macmillan)
Captain Ronaldo Aldo has committed an unforgivable crime. He will ask for forgiveness all the same: from you, from God, even from himself.
Connected by ansible, humanity has spread across galaxies and fought a war against an enemy that remains a mystery.
At the edge of human space sits the Citadel—a relic of the war and a listening station for the enemy’s return. For a young Ensign Aldo, fresh from the academy and newly cloned across the ansible line, it’s a prison from which he may never escape.
Deplorable work conditions and deafening silence from the blackness of space have left morale on the station low and tensions high. Aldo’s only hope of transcending his station, and cloning a piece of his soul somewhere new is both his triumph and his terrible crime.
Expected publication: January 17h 2017, part of the Tor.com Winter Line-Up
A review copy (e-galley) of this book was provided by the publisher. Some things might change in the final copy.
As it often happens, I was intrigued as soon as I saw this long title and beautiful cover. It is illustrated by Jaime Jones and designed by Christine Foltzer.
Stories set in space, especially deep space, fascinate me. In all probability, I won’t ever be able to go there, so reading stories about it is the only way to experience it, somehow. This story deals with the difficulties to live in a space station, one so far away from Earth and even other colonies. Even if that was not a story that made me dream, it has its interests. Plus I love stories that deal with clones.
“But let me begin my confession of sins from the beginning. God will measure all my sins, not just my latest.”
I really didn’t connect with the main character at first. But along the way, getting to see his reactions to some things and to what happened to him I grew to… how to say this? “Tolerate him” would be too harsh and “like him” would be a little bit too much: something in between. Ronaldo is a normal guy, not amazing, not particularly brave or nice or charming. Sometimes he is a jerk and sometimes he is quite decent. The way he reacted when he witnessed sexual assault actually made me think better of him, I wish his reaction would be the one everybody has when confronted with this situation as an ally. What I didn’t like about him was how he was always feeling sorry for himself and always made everything about him. But I had the sensation that I would understand why he felt that way by the end of the story.
The fortress at the end of time is the fate of an average guy, a clone with bad luck, and how he ended up in a bad situation. The story is told like a confession that he is writing while in some kind of jail, awaiting his trial. He talks a lot about sins and God and that can be annoying at times. But it shows in what kind of mental place he is.
“I just wanted to fly. That’s all.”
It was interesting to see how the life of this crew stuck deep in space with such bad work conditions and environment was depicted. The frictions between them, hierarchy problems, how time affects them, how they make do and how they don’t. And more importantly how they deal with the loneliness of being so far from everyone. Some have started thinking they were put there by the enemies as a test, that they are studied, some think everyone else is dead but them. I kind of felt like I was the bigger entity watching them, like one would a terrarium.
“Listen to the wind howling outside your monastery walls, do you hear it? We have wind on the station, too.”
The cast of characters is quite diverse, there are different persons of colour, and there is a transgender woman who get a slightly bigger role in the second part of the story. All the supporting characters where interesting and I wouldn’t have minded to see their point of view in this story!
Overall I was captivated with knowing how that crime happened, what the consequences were and what it would mean for the protagonist. I didn’t love this story, mainly because I prefer to bond with main characters, but it was very interesting to read. The fact that it is a novella is perfect, because I don’t think I would have lasted 500 pages with Aldo. It was the perfect lenght to appreciate the story. So yay for novellas that let us read about things that are not always our go-to and discover new horizons!
(Trigger warning : sexual assault mentioned and described)