Sci-Fi with a message

September 20th, 2015


To me, good art is that which can provoke thought with simplicity and sparseness. I am also very impressed when I can stumble upon a piece of art or a book that can, without explicitly doing so, pack a great deal of sociopolitical commentary. And by complete chance, I was recently introduced to a very entertaining novel that did just that.


This weekend, while I was trying to catch up on some class readings at Barnes & Noble, I had the pleasure of meeting David Nabhan.


David Nabhan was at the Eton Plaza Barnes & Noble for the signing of his new book “The Pilots of Borealis”, and was kind enough to talk to me for a few minutes and let me ask him about his work.


David Nabhan, though lesser known to us Clevelanders, is in fact a very big name on the West Coast, especially within geological and scientific circles. He has, throughout his career, been a rare (and often chastised) champion of earthquake prediction, a field that, unbeknownst to most of us who are not up to date in our seismology, is not recognized by the US Geological Survey. His career in academia has been filled with skepticism and opposition, a constant battle against the unprogressive nay-sayers that refuse to give legitimacy to his scientific take (which, it is worth mentioning, is actually accepted and widely studied in nearly all of the other developed nations of the world).


Nonetheless, David has amassed for himself a remarkably successful career and considerable notoriety. Upon retiring, he decided to take the lessons that he learned from his campaign for American earthquake prediction, his scientific knowledge, and his gift for writing and try his hand at fiction.


And, although sci-fi usually isn’t my genre, I must say he did it very well. “The Pilots of Borealis” is, on its surface, a story set in an opulent Lunar civilization named Borealis (a city so wealthy that David likes to describe as “Dubai on steroids”) and a power struggle over its vast reserves of the invaluable Helium-3, the Solar System’s most powerful source of energy. The pragmatic, morally ambiguous main character called Clinton Rittener provides all that sci-fi fans could want from a protagonist—ceaseless action, some romance, and of course, an incredible challenge to overcome.


But then there is all that the story contains below its surface, which is where I feel it holds its real power. Without explicitly acknowledging it, the book touches upon several current political issues that are rampant throughout our generation. The book is centered on a fuel shortage and the crisis that ensues, an issue that all of us can clearly relate to. And, though the source is Helium-3, the reader can’t help but be reminded of our own, modern problems with fuel and all of the geopolitical and economic weight that the conversation carries.


So, I would absolutely recommend that you take a look at the “Pilots of Borealis” the next time that you are in a bookstore. It really has something for everybody. Clinton makes for a captivating main character, a guy whose own author liked to describe as “a real bastard,” but at the same time, a man that you are rooting for at the end of the story. The setting is equally as entrancing. I didn’t quite believe that Nabhan could write-up a place that could be described as “Dubai on steroids”- but sure enough, the city of Borealis is one that appeals to the imagination. And lastly, but certainly not least, the book manages to implicitly highlight the excessive politicization of resource consumption while keeping you entertained with the fast paced, high action story that surrounds the pilots who fly in the opulent city of Borealis.