Updated: Dec 17, 2020
I need to confess, #ReadIndieInDecember has been going much slower than I was hoping. My problem is, I start reading a book by another indie author and I find myself motivated to attack my own projects anew!
What I’m trying to say is, some of these indie authors write truly inspiring stories, and Hûw Steer is no exception.
I first encountered Steer’s work when I read The Blackbird and the Ghost, and I think I’ve been lightly harassing the author to provide a sequel to that book ever since. Steer created a fascinating fantasy world (The Boiling Seas), populated with followable characters (and a protagonist who is not entirely unlike Sparrow, himself).
Ad Luna is billed as a science fiction story, and I’m always hesitant to disagree with how an author wishes to describe his/her own work.
But we should all remember Clarke’s Third Law, which claims, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I would like to propose the Haines Corollary: “Any sufficiently ancient sci-fi is indistinguishable from fantasy.”
I don’t mean this as a criticism; quite the opposite. I think Steer is quite excellent at building fantastic settings and races, and that made this book enjoyable from start to finish.
Whether you proudly consider yourself a sci-fi nerd or a fantasy geek (or did I get those backwards?), I think you will enjoy Steer’s 2020 release. Read on to find out why!
Why Ad Luna Is Not Science Fiction
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this review are my own. Obviously. I try to be consistent that way.
My philosophy is such: A good sci-fi story should examine the current human condition by removing one or more of the physical limits in our existence.
For example, a story about robots should lead us to examine how our society treats cheap labor, or describe the relationship that mankind has with its creator.
A story about space exploration might make us think about the expansion of our own civilization, the risks we are willing to take, and the heroes (or villains) who balance individual survival against societal progress.
A story about aliens should make us examine how we treat those different from us; even those we consider a threat to our lifestyle. Aliens can also highlight the uniqueness and various complexities of different demographics in our society.
My point is, simply because a story takes place in space does not make it science fiction. I do not consider Star Wars a science fiction franchise just because it has the word “Star” in its title. It’s about space wizards and sword fights, and epic struggles against evil empires. That doesn’t make it bad. It’s just fantasy.
Star Trek was a much better example of science fiction (at least The Next Generation; I cannot comment on all of the latter series). Through constant exploration and interaction with alien races and artificial intelligences, Star Trek made us take a hard look at marginalized peoples here on Earth, and debate the philosophical values that we often take for granted.
From following Steer’s social media updates, I gather that he is a rather thorough Star Trek fan. I would hazard a guess (personal apologies to the author if I’m incorrect) that he was most attracted to the way ST:TNG constantly introduced new alien races to facilitate discussions on contemporary social issues.
Make no mistake about it: Steer’s alien races are amazing and intriguing. But I never got the impression that I was looking at human conflicts—and that’s what sci-fi should really do.
Why Ad Luna Is An Excellent Example Of Fantasy
When the characters were soaring through the air on the back of a giant vulture, I was reminded of the flight of the giant eagles in The Hobbit.
When the author described the citadels and skyscrapers built on the moon, I felt that I was exploring Rivendell in Fellowship of the Ring.
When the battle was raging in space between species from every planet and star, I had flashbacks to the Battle of Five Armies.
Steer is a master worldcrafter. His alien planets and cities expand and enrich the imagination, immersing the reader in fantastic settings. His alien races and creatures are magnificent and astonishing, and the reader is left wanting more information after meeting each one.
Honestly, Ad Luna doesn’t offer much in the way of science. And that’s not a criticism, just an observation. The story and plot hold up just as well in a setting and genre that require imagination rather than information.
Why Ad Luna Defies Conventional Genre Labels
The really intriguing element of Ad Luna is the way Steer transforms and expands upon an ancient short story (A True History) by a Greek historian (Lucian of Samosata), and creates a modern novel from it.
In fact, as I was reading this book, I often felt the wonder and amazement that I imagine the original ancient Greek audience felt. The planets, the stars, the satellites—these were all described in ways that the grandfathers of classical science might have imagined them.
I can honestly say that no book before this one has intrigued me enough to investigate classical Greek literature. Steer breaks through many conventional norms with this book, and for that reason alone I could recommend that you try it out.
The Recommendation: Follow Hûw Steer
The quality of writing in Steer’s two books that I’ve read so far really indicate that he is one of the rising stars of indie fantasy and science fiction. If you’re into those genres, check him out on Amazon, and subscribe to his web page.
I enjoyed Ad Luna, and unequivocally recommend reading it. Almost as much as I recommend The Blackbird and the Ghost! Ad Luna was great, but it stands alone, and the author even confessed that he will not be expanding that book into further novels. If you're looking for a book with future potential, you'll probably enjoy The Boiling Seas series.
I’d love to hear your comments and feedback on my analysis, so leave a comment below! Don’t forget to subscribe with the link at the bottom of the page to get all of my updates on Sparrow’s new fantasy project!