(2012) Brenda Cooper, Pyr, £15.99, pbk, 353pp, ISBN 978-1-616-14684-9
This is 'Book One of Ruby’s Song' and Cooper tells us straight away that this novel and the one to follow have been inspired by the life of Eva Peron and the musical Evita! Not a common occurrence in the world of science fiction, dare I suggest, but do not let Cooper’s confession put you off reading The Creative Fire which refers to the generation ship of the same name which is grinding its way through the stars. I say grinding as things are clearly winding-down on this great ship as its journey nears completion, and for some, life is hard, and downright dangerous, particularly due to the class system that has evolved on this epic journey.
Cue, Ruby Martin, one of the lowest of the lows, a mere 'grey', doomed, but not resigned to spending her all-too-short life repairing robots in the depths of the ship. That is until an accident occurs which ruptures the ship and pushes her into the spotlight and gives her the chance to encounter a 'blue' called Fox and thus begins her rise up through the class layers of the crew as Fox encourages Ruby to blossom.
It seems almost ironic that some of Cooper’s previous novels which were not YA (young adult) ended up being marketed as such and this novel while having some very adult themes running through it, does have a YA feel to it, possibly due to Ruby being centre stage, or when she is not centre stage, the action unfolds through the eyes of her friend, Onor, who clearly has a crush on her, and a different take on the world the greys inhabit and the social strata that exists throughout the ship. Of course, there is the inevitable romantic tension as Ruby's looks and personality and singing voice attract men of power to her likes moths to a flame but these relationships seem slightly underdeveloped, although possibly just as well as some of the men in question are more than twice her age. However, Ruby is a quick study and learns to put the assets she possesses to her own advantage. Better developed are the strands of the plot that revolve around the artificial intelligence known as Ix, who runs the ship and has to deal with the constant demands in that role from the troublesome, scheming humans surrounding him, or, er, 'it'.
Bonus marks are awarded by the world's most reluctant reader to Cooper for writing a 353 page novel that consists of three parts and sixty two chapters that made reading The Creative Fire even less of a chore, but then again, it wasn’t that much of a chore in the first place, although while it is certainly readable, and the major tropes or themes have been clearly inspired by the life of Eva Peron – the role of women, the patriarchal society, the class divides, a Cinderella-like rise from rags to riches, these are clearly big, big themes, but I felt The Creative Fire was more space opera and science fantasy than science fiction – we are clearly in Ray Bradbury territory where he was more concerned about what powers the people inside the rocket than the rocket itself. For the counter viewpoint, I would steer you towards Greg Egan's Orthogonal series and his generation ship 'Peerless'. Given Cooper's approach, I felt there were other big, but obvious plot points that were missing, or underdeveloped – no spoilers here, as well as a few inconsistencies about life on the ship itself that needed to be addressed, and perhaps they will be in book two. However, given these omissions and the impressionistic way of tackling the central themes of the book I did feel that the characters and events within The Creative Fire could have been played out within any number of backgrounds or situations in different lands and in different time periods rather than here in outer space.
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