Thursday, December 14, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Star City / Edwin Peng

TITLE: Star City (Star City, #1)
AUTHOR: Edwin Peng
PUBLISHER: Evolved Publishing

Young Adult - Science Fiction

Edwin Peng’s debut novel, STAR CITY, is a YA sci-fi tale that tells the story of alien first contact from the point of view of two teenagers: Emma Smith, a college freshman who’s given the coveted position of student ambassador, and Sepporinen, a young alien who’s assigned to be her counterpart. The alien race, called the Ba’ren, are a technologically advanced and peace-loving society that hopes to be Earth’s benevolent allies. To prove their goodwill, they offer medical technology that can cure a form of childhood cancer and team up with human scientists to develop the cure. However, not all humans welcome the Ba’ren’s presence, and not all Ba’ren want to form an alliance with Earth. Between extremists on Earth who believe the Ba’ren to be an invading force to isolationist Ba’ren factions, diplomacy gets harder and harder every day. Emma and Sepporinen soon find themselves at the heart of the conflict, working desperately to salvage the fragile relations between Earth and the Ba’ren.

Emma and Sepporinen start the book in polar opposite positions. Emma is thrilled at having beat out thousands of applicants for her role as student ambassadors and sees this as a wonderful opportunity. Sepporinen, on the other hand, never wanted anything to do with this mission. He cares more about prospecting for riches, but was thrust into the junior ambassador position by his government for reasons that are unclear to him. Both are intriguing characters, especially Sepporinen, whose alien culture is thoroughly explored through fantastic world-building. It’s practically hate at first sight when the two finally meet. Over the course of the book, their relationship develops and shifts, until they find themselves unlikely partners.

But though the narrative centers on the two young protagonists, the story of STAR CITY is much, much broader. It’s essentially the story of two clashing worlds filtered through Emma and Sepporinen. Through secondary characters and news reports, we see the impact of the aliens’ arrival on Earth on not only the Emma’s country, the United States, but the world as a whole. In addition, Sepporinen’s dialogue with his people shows how various Ba’ren are reacting to the attempted diplomacy. It’s an expansive and richly wrought feat of both world-building and storytelling. And much of it rings true. The Ba’ren society is developed in detail (and is quite different from Earth’s), and Earth’s reactions—from religious fundamentalists claiming the Ba’ren are demons to internet-conspiracy-fueled extremists—seem all too believable.

It’s hard to believe Peng was able to pack such a big story into such a little book (maybe not little, but certainly not the 1000-page tome it could have been!). Personally, I enjoyed the efficiency of his writing and how fast-paced the story was. It was a quick, addictive read that kept me glued to the pages (well, screen since I had a Kindle version!). STAR CITY is the first book of a trilogy, though it has a conclusion of sorts while leaving the door open for its two sequels. I, for one, can’t wait to get my hands on them!

Edwin Peng lives in beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska with his beloved Pokémon buddy, Eevee. During the day, he indulges in super-villainy by performing high-power laser research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. At night, his secret identity is that of a literary superhero fighting to make the Young Adult Science Fiction genre less clichéd and more inclusive.

Edwin is the author of the Star City series, which features badass heroines and space aliens who love blueberry pies. The first novel is released by Evolved Publishing on December 4, 2017.

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