December 21, 2017

Tangled Planet

Written Kate Blair
Dancing Cat Books
260 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2017

Four hundred years of ancestors have travelled on the ship Venture leaving behind Alpha Earth in search of a Beta Earth to colonize.  For seventeen-year-old Ursa, the ship has always been home.  As a junior engineer and daughter of a former captain, Ursa knows every control, vent and tech that keeps the Venture working, now in orbit above the planet being readied for full colonization. But there is silent dissension between those who want to embrace life on Beta fully and those who appreciate the safety and known entity that is the ship.
It smells right, here.  Not like the empty scent of Beta.
     It’s the smell of hundreds of years of skin cells, waste reclamation pipes, and generations of people stuffed in a cramped space. I never noticed it until we went to the planet, where the air is so clod and clear I choked on my first breath.  Here it’s rich and musky.  The smell of home. The Venture is cozy, human-sized, lived-in, unlike the muddy mess of the planet below.
(pg. 23)

It’s astonishing, Ursa.  Just being here.  Humanity, stretching out into the stars.  We’re the dream Alpha Earth had so many hundreds of years ago. (pg. 65)
When Ursa  discovers the murdered body of Orion, the husband of her sister Celeste and of former friend Vega, planet-side, Ursa becomes a suspect, though she had observed a wolf-like creature hiding in the forest.  Because of her reluctance to spend much time on Beta and because no animals matching that description or DNA had been created or released onto the planet by the genelab, few believe her.  But then a second murder leaves the crew reeling and Ursa begins to investigate in earnest to clear herself and keep her family and those for whom she cares safe.

Much like Kate Blair’s debut YA novel Transferral (DCB, 2015), Tangled Planet is speculative fiction, asking a “What if?” question, here about inhabiting new worlds of space or on new planets.  It’s about choosing that which is familiar but limited over that which is unknown but holds much potential.  Kate Blair makes it clear that in this sci-fi setting, even with the development of astounding tech, genetic manipulation and more, people are still human, enduring grief and resentment, loss and jealousy, and making decisions that are both selfish and selfless, resulting in the murder mystery at the book’s heart.  In this well-plotted and suspenseful novel, belied by its unremarkable cover, it’s clear that for all its newness, Beta Earth is nevertheless being colonized by those driven by old hurts and fears and the future may still be determined by what has happened in the past.

(A version of this review was originally written for and published in Quill & Quire, as noted in the citation below.)

Kubiw, H. (2018, January/February). [Review of the book Tangled Planet, by Kate Blair]. Quill & Quire, 84 (1): 48.

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