The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez: An Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee 2021

The Vanished Birds was an odd story to summarise. In essence it is a novel of two parts, one in which a crew of a ship ply their trade across the galaxy and the second about a young, abandoned boy who eventually becomes capable of personal transportation through space.

There are a lot of ideas in this novel and not all of them are executed. Despite the novel covering decades we do not really get to understand all of the crew, Arho the boy and Nia the Captain ae focused on to the detriment for the others. We start to explore some, but this is never followed through enough for us to really care about them when they are in danger at the end of the book and betrayed.

Ahro is an interesting character, an abandoned child with an unknown past with selective mutism and an affinity for music. His mutism means we do not get to see him bond with the crew and the time jumps in his growth from child to adulthood didn’t seem to show much development. There is an interesting love scene with Ahro when he ventures out alone that promised to elevate his characters motivation and give him a direction and purpose however once the scene is passed that experience seems to be forgotten almost as if the author believed he needed a coming-of-age scene to show that he was now grown up and eager to experience life.

The novel is very sad in places, how Ahro is treated and Nia’s guilt in particular shine through but the ending is exciting, and action packed. We get to understand Fumiko’s plans and in the last quarter of the book we see separate threads come together.

As a sci fi novel I feel Baxter and Pratchett did the instant travel between realities better and we never learned enough about the galaxy at large to understand why the authority were so bad. They of course treated Ahro terribly but I felt their motivations were not explained enough. There was no face for them. Perhaps that was the point. They were the silent faceless companies that will exploit whoever they want for profit.

Simon Jimenez writes well and the book is easy to read but it lacked the clout of some of the bigger hitters out there like Reynolds or Hamilton. I see potential in the author and subsequent books I think will improve but for me the story did not engage enough for my tastes.

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