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Beyond the Mist (The Chara Series Book 1) Kindle Edition
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I didn't know what to expect going into Beyond the Mist by superversive author Ben Zwycky, and to my delight, I'm now certain that there's no way I could have known what I was in for.
A man finds himself weightless in a rushing mist. He doesn't know whether he is flying or falling, and he has no memory of anything prior to waking in the fog. Much like the book's protagonist, the reader is immediately cast into an existential mystery on the first page.
Also like the protagonist, I didn't know what to make of the character's initial situation. Was I entering a strange science fiction world so advanced beyond our own as to make the setting itself a puzzle? Had Zwycky crafted a surrealist parable to illustrate the folly of relativism through style and mood? A metaphysical science-fantasy like Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld?
Since discovering the truth is among the primary joys of reading Beyond the Mist, I won't spoil the answer. I will say that the process of discovery is masterfully handled by Zwycky and immensely satisfying.
It's not a spoiler to point out that Beyond the Mist tackles weighty metaphysical, moral, and ethical questions. Unlike the message fiction that's overtaken mainstream SF of late, this novel explores its themes through character and conflict; not story-interrupting lectures.
While reading, I couldn't help picturing Beyond the Mist as a stylish indie video game in the vein of Journey. If Zwycky has the means and inclination to produce a game based on his novel, I'll be the first in line to play it.
Most importantly of all, Beyond the Mist is fun. It avoids the trap of falling into its own navel that snares so many other cerebral SFF stories. This book remains a compelling adventure novel throughout, with elements of the mystery genre deftly woven in so as to support and advance the main plot.
With Beyond the Mist, Zwycky has made a worthy contribution to the superversive canon that stands poised to succeed the Big Five publishers' morally, intellectually, and creatively exhausted output. If you're one of the many former readers driven away from SF by the thought police, or just looking for a fun and engaging work of speculative fiction that won't insult your intelligence, Beyond the Mist is the perfect introduction to superversive SF.
The central premise/question is as simple as it gets, and the beauty of sci-fi as a genre is that it allows us to address the basics in settings that strip out the distractions and complexities of the real world. At first glance, our nameless protagonists finds himself in a state of perfection. Floating in the mysterious mist requires no effort; there is no pain, no hunger or thirst; the sensation is, in fact, quite pleasant. When his mind rebels and starts asking questions, voices tell him to be content, to enjoy this freedom from want and pain, to be grateful. A single voice, however, offers something different: a way out, into the unknown.
It's not a spoiler to say which path the protagonist would choose; the title of the novel, after all, provides the answer. What would he find "beyond"? Will his worst fears be realized? Will the knowledge he seeks end up destroying him? I won't give away the answers except to say that unlike in most of today's gimmicky setups that leave readers scratching their heads in disappointment, clear and substantial answers are, in fact, found.
The last section of the novel does switch gears and becomes more of a traditional mystery (which, as it happened, was too easy for this Agatha Christie fan to solve). It probably could have been saved for the upcoming sequel, but I also felt that the protagonist, and the reader, having found resolution to the Big Question, should not be left in complete ignorance about all the rest. Thus, more searching, more answers, and while there is a definite setup fro a sequel, the ending is quite satisfying.