Rating 2.5/5 – I realize that The Vanished Bird by Simon Jimenez is a debut novel. He obviously found an agent and got himself a good publisher. Yet no one said to him that this book should be longer. Why? The book starts out with an interesting way of introducing the world, its main characters, and how everything connects through the path of the story. The writing is strong as you actually care about the characters, their motivations, and how they deal with the circumstances of the story. This story had two sudden plot turns. The first one happens within the context of the story. The main character makes a decision and suddenly you lose the entire supporting cast. Then the 2nd one happens and it just came out of nowhere. Suddenly everything just takes a turn and the whole thing felt so sudden. Not to mention there’s a very interesting sci-fi concept I want to get to, and in order to do it, I have to spoil some things. The writing was engaging, the world well crafted. Except for one aspect, The Vanished Birds keeps you engaged but the big question and the second turn just left me feeling angrier than anything else. So, let’s discuss.
The Vanished Birds – Blinding Me With Science
This is not exactly a spoiler because it’s become clear early in the book, but something about the idea of travel bothers me. I can’t see how a society can possibly be sustained by it. The main character is the caption of the ship that gets past the time and distance by traveling under space. It’s not warping or FTL, but a place just beyond the universe that cuts downtime. Unfortunately, time passes differently for the people traveling in this under space than it does for the people in the regular universe. The trip for the spaceship crew only takes 8 months, but in the universe, 15 years pass. There’s an authority call Mumbai, who oversees most of the planets humans have colonized. We’re introduced to this concept of travel by a character on a farming planet that the ship comes to every 15 years to pick up a very specific plant. According to the narrative 15 years passes in the crew’s area of the universe too. I think. It’s indicated strongly that going to and from this planet takes 15 years. So the owners of Mumbai send this ship on a 15 year (by their time) trip to pick up vegetables? Tastes don’t change? Don’t get me started on the weird way their new warp technology works. This brings me to my next huge problem with The Vanished Birds.
The Vanished Birds – The Turn
We all know what the “All is lost moment” in any story, film, or TV show is? It’s the point in the story where the hero is at their lowest, the point where everything seems insurmountable, impossible, where there does not seem any way for the protagonist to reach their goals? The Vanished Birds has such a moment and it just comes completely out of nowhere. Suddenly there are traitors. Why? Well, we kind of know, but it still feels like “WT actual F.” And I mean it’s a turn. It’s jarring. It feels out of place. It makes sense to a certain point but doesn’t make sense. And then everything after that doesn’t make sense. There’s an appearance by one of the man characters, but there’s no rationale or reason on how they got there? I’m all for revenge but could get to see how the character exactly figured out how to get the revenge. That is why I feel this book should have been longer. There are things that simply needed to be fleshed out. If you have The Empire, you can’t just have them suddenly appear in the third at with the Death Star and start blasting every planet in sight. You have to introduce the Death Star, show what makes it dangerous, so when the rebels make their suicide run to destroy it you understand why. Here, the antagonists just appear and start destroying everyone’s lives. They have a goal similar to one of the main characters but there was no hint of this goal. They come off as the galaxy police, but at no point do you get a sense of that except in some character descriptions. And they could have met their goals long before that did as every character gave them the opportunity. I’m going on about this because it bugged the living shit out of me. And the ending. Oh boy, the ending. I can’t spoil this but the weirdness of how travel works changes completely. Maybe because I’m not really sure how long the actions in the 3rd part actually took.
This book is very well written. Has great characters, an interesting premise, and some interesting science fiction concepts without being hardcore sci-fi. I like how it began, like where the first part of the characters was going. But I hated the third act. Without fleshing things out a little more if felt so contrived, so fast, so “where exactly did that come from?” I did not get to know the antagonists. To be frank I didn’t know they were actually the antagonists. You can’t just assume these things, they have to be built up more. Don’t give us a good love story and turn it into an insane hallucination. Don’t give us two interesting supporting casts then just disregard them for the sake of a 2nd and 3rd act. Don’t have the Empire attack without giving us some idea of why they’re a threat. And, think fully about your sci-fi concepts before you introduce them. I think the first part of The Vanishing Birds rock, but the rest left too much for me to recommend.