Fiction Reviews

Floating Hotel

(2024) Grace Curtis, Hodderscape, £16.99, hrdbk, 291pp, ISBN 978-1-529-39058-2


The Grand Hotel Abeona (Abeona being the Roman Goddess of Journeys, as any advanced mythologist will tell you) is a giant interstellar spacecraft doubling as a luxury hotel, plying its trade amid the star systems of a corrupt, oppressive Empire. Like the polity, the hotel has seen better days – some might say it runs on team spirit and a whole lot of luck since the death of its mysterious founder. But still guests flock to the Abeona to forget their troubles.

The novel – Curtis’s second – has no single protagonist, unless of course you count the hotel itself. Instead, we follow different characters from chapter to chapter: often Carl, the hotel manager, but also other staff from concierges to chefs, plus guests with their own agendas.

Taken together, we get a composite story with a common thread running through it: what is the purpose of the Abeona? Who is the mysterious Lamplighter whose exposés of the Empire’s decadence shock and titillate their clandestine readership? Could they be… a member of hotel staff? But each character also gets their own tale independently of the main plotline – be it romance, espionage or even messages from alien civilisations.

The name of the hotel of course references Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and like that film Floating Hotel riffs on ideas of old world luxury and a certain amount of fin-de-siècle resignation. This space empire may not be Austria-Hungary in disguise, but it suggests a similar atmosphere of cultural exhaustion, which the endless party of the Abeona only throws into sharper relief.

The novel gives the initial impression of being cosy or low-stakes science-fiction. It’s easy to be taken in by the faded glamour of the hotel and the strong human interest element. But each subplot is – among many other things – an indictment of the setting. Throw in existential threats to the hotel and some pointed questions about the Empire’s head-in-the-sand attitude towards alien life and you have a lot more to reckon with than might be thought upon first reading.

Indeed, the more I consider things, the more impressed I am by what Curtis has pulled off here. Juggling multiple points of view is one of the hardest things to do in writing fiction and she makes it work without making it look like, well, work. All the characters are memorable: they all get their moments and vignettes, and no-one is just a caricature.

If the novel has a weak point it is that it treads lightly enough across these hidden depths that each could do with more elaboration. At hardly 300 pages long it could have perhaps have stood to be somewhat longer, bearing all of this in mind.

This being a, SF² Concatenation review, I am also duty bound to report that those seeking a detailed account of the economics of the space-faring hospitality industry should look elsewhere. It’s a great big fancy hotel in space, nuff said.

These quibbles aside, Floating Hotel is an interesting, enjoyable and technically impressive work that’ll go down well with anyone who whose preferences in SF tends to the softer side.

Tim Atkinson


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