This is a big read, a big read set in a huge tapestry. This is a read for lovers of sci-fi/fantasy who crave an epic and detailed view of a whole other planetary system. On the most habitable planet Sarnia, there was already an advanced civilisation when man arrived, in fact three separate, indigenous, and variously civilised Sarnian species, plus an earlier colonising one. As well as the invaders that proceeded man, there were two that succeeded their arrival. The present dominant species came as conquerors of Sarian, Toharrian and Human alike, and the last as an already subservient species of these other planetary empire builders, the Mi’ukmac. The new dominant beings allow the existence and a varying degree of independence to their subject races.
Yes it is all most complicated, which is one reason for the length of this book. Of course there is a whole ecosystems worth of other native flora and fauna, as well as species that humans, and no doubt others, have introduced. This book builds the foundations for an intended long series of stories.
Humans have been driven back into a pre-electric power economy, though there are some vestiges of their former technological advancement. The previously available power-grid to the human inhabitants had been cut many years before this story opens. Further increasing the humans’ problems is the fact that the Empire seems to be keeping away new settlers from Earth. We don’t know that the Earth’s population still has inter-stellar travel capabilities, but we may assume it does. There are a very few humans still alive with distant memories of Earth and space flight, but to all intents and purposes that immediate experience is lost.
What of the story, the plot itself? Well, as I have already said, this is just the first stage of a colossal epic saga. Stories within stories are completed but by the last page of Welcome to Sarnia, we are still not far from the beginning of the drama, if this even proves to be the beginning.
Musil writes well, but for me, with consideration to the version I read (May 2012), there are a few too many grammatical imperfections. They don’t particularly interrupt the discourse, but they are a totally unnecessary irritation. The massive amount of work, the fascinating creativity, is let down by this less than thorough editing. I fully expect a comprehensive revision of the script at some time after this review.
This really is a well thought out, plausible, synopsis, with a nice mix of originality, and familiar science fiction/fantasy elements. I think that readers that are drawn into Musil’s world will become loyal fans. There are obviously many adventures to come, with no guarantee at all that the humans will ever again be the dominant force that they once were on Sarnia. Actually, there is little indication beyond a looming battle as to in which chronological direction this planned series will go. This is a book for a long holiday, or for a series of long-winter fireside reads. In other words, this might be one for the sorts of readers that consumed Tolkien, Frank Herbert, or Orson Scott Card novels, rather than one for those that only like the quick fix of a novella, or sharply sculptured standalone stories.
This book should be seen as a strong foundation work for many future, and probably considerably shorter novels. Whatever, for fans of visionary worlds, I think Musil’s is worth pursuing. The detail in this thick volume doesn’t always make for easy reading. Nevertheless, I found the effort rewarding enough. When considered as a foundation work we can’t help but see a huge potential.