Year 18: The Schism by Nicholas C. Rossis

Year 18: The Schism by Nicholas C. RossisCombining issues of daily survival and a real sense of threat with questions of what the role of law and government should be, Rossis creates a story that is both engaging and thought-provoking.

The spaceship Pearseus was supposed to celebrate New Years 2099 in style. Instead it crashes on an unexplored planet. The survivors start to rebuild, but the death of the captain forces the burgeoning society to face the divisions at the heart of civilisation: when do individual rights outweigh the risk to the group? With many conflicting cultures to draw from and the opportunity to start afresh, will right be defined by those mighty enough to take it?

Although Rossis has clearly devoted much thought to the philosophy of society, this novella is first and foremost a science-fiction thriller not a political treatise. The ultimate outcome of the book is a natural conclusion of flawed people making plausible choices, rather than the supporters of an author’s pet theory demonstrating its inevitable triumph.

Perhaps ironically for a story so based in the nuance of legal theory, it is the science fiction that occasionally feels a touch dry. The initial sections set on the Pearseus before the crash – while mostly character-driven – do have a few patches of declarative sentences explaining the physical events rather than sharing the emotional struggles.

The characterisation is solid, with the 18-year gap between the Pearseus encountering difficulties and the captain’s death revealing clear development without implausible changes.

While Rossis creates a cast of leading characters, the driving personality (as befits a proponent of a single, strong leader) is First Mate Gerard Croix. At first apparently criminal and potentially insane, he is shown both to understand the inability of liberal democracy to efficiently answer questions of pure survival and to have a better perspective on the planet’s natives than leaving well alone.

Countering Croix’s (potentially necessary) tyranny are a gathering of civilised passengers, united by a desire to rebuild an enlightened society but burdened by philosophical disagreements over when survival justifies compromising ideals. Rossis’ ability to create plausible characters is especially evident in the internal debates these philosophical questions cause.

While this novella can stand on its own, there is a strong sense of it being the prequel it is. The dénouement provides neither evidence of whether the immediate solution to the internal conflict will hold even in the short-term nor any resolution to the issue of the planet’s natives.

Overall I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to readers interested in a more thoughtful approach to post-disaster fiction.

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