Young Adult (YA) fiction frequently takes place in dystopian worlds. A Hole in the Sky takes that one stage further: the population of the generational colony ship, Daedalus, don’t realise how dystopian their world truly is, and it is this journey of realisation and the mystery of how their culture came to be that drives this first book in Hamilton’s planned Arkship trilogy.
A Hole in the Sky is a first-person science-fiction audiobook that follows protagonist Hazel, a sixteen-year-old girl living in a farming village on the Daedalus. Life on the colony ship is far simpler than we might imagine, following a mutiny that took place 500 years ago which has left the ship with limited resources and an unknown distance still to travel. Most of the machinery no longer works (as power is saved for the engines and computers), and everybody is ‘cycled’ at the age of 65. So far, so Soylent Green.
Hazel’s younger brother, Fraser, has an accident which leaves him partially paralysed. It is determined that he must be cycled as, not only can he no longer be productive, but other people need to look after him too, reducing their own productivity. The two siblings flee their village to join the ‘Cheaters’, those who abandoned village life because they refused to be cycled. Whilst with the Cheaters, Hazel discovers that the Daedalus has a hole in it and has been leaking air for some time — and if it isn’t repaired, the population will die out within a few years. And so the story begins and finds its own space in the genre.
However, it’s actually the mystery of Daedalus’s past, of why people are cycled at 65 when they seem to be fully healthy, and other strange elements of society that keep the story moving, rather than the quest to repair the hole in the sky. This is very well done, and the author provides clues at a nice rate to keep a listener guessing before finally providing the answers in the last few chapters. The answer is satisfying when it arrives, and everything does make sense, though there is clearly still more to learn about their situation in the remainder of the trilogy as some questions remain unasked.
Hamilton presents an interesting world, where the vast majority of the population believes that the ‘Electric Captain’ will protect them, as long as they keep doing their part. This is an effectively religious level of belief, where people use the Captain as a curse, making Hazel’s growing questioning of the life she has been brought up to accept all the more powerful and the theme of the dangers of blind faith recurs throughout the story. Hamilton also stresses the juxtaposition between the way these people live and the incredibly advanced technology around them. A significant part of the story involves the characters needing to learn how to take advantage of it all, and the difficulty with which the characters struggle to understand what they learn of their environment works well and is a fun inclusion to the narrative.
Hazel is a good character, though doesn’t always come across as a teenager in her thoughts and speech. Fraser, her brother, is great; he is determined, even after his accident, to get on with his life and quickly designs a boat and fishing equipment which his disability won’t stop him being able to use. Unfortunately, what could be a powerful exploration of the different ways that people can contribute to society, even if not completely able-bodied, is soon abandoned. We mostly see Fraser’s disability through Hazel’s eyes, and her frustrations with how much she needs to help him seem very authentic. Fraser himself never gives up, but far more could have been made of this aspect of the story. Similarly, even the older, post-cycling, people of the Cheaters are very healthy in spite of their advanced age. The potential for an interrogation of the benefits that our older people can bring to a community is largely ignored. Whilst I appreciate the needs of the story to keep moving, and to be able to take the characters along in a physically strenuous journey into the ship, I would have liked to see more exploration of these themes. Perhaps there will be more space for such in the sequels.
A Hole in the Sky is exclusively available as an audiobook which, for me, was its greatest flaw. I generally like audiobooks, but I like to have the option as I sometimes find that the narrator chosen can pull me out of the story. Unfortunately, this is the case here; Elizabeth Klett is a skilled narrator, but I found that her voice and tone weren’t right for this one. She has also narrated books such as those by Jane Austen, which she’s far more suited for. I can’t help but wonder if Hamilton knew that Klett would be the narrator when he was writing, as it is revealed early on that Pride and Prejudice is Hazel’s favourite book, which partially informs her character — she sees herself as an Elizabeth Bennet. This influences how she chooses to react to other characters and how she sees them, as well as her attitude to relationships in the inevitable but pleasantly underplayed romantic subplot.A Hole in the Sky tells a compelling mystery story alongside a quest through the Daedalus to save the population which remains tense right to the climax. The setting and culture are fascinating, though the exploration of some of themes that the story suggests are disappointingly shallow. If you can ignore the less-than-ideal style of narration the story is very enjoyable, with many of the tropes that makes YA dystopian fiction so popular. The story finishes on a lovely, and well-earned, final image, that makes me look forward to the sequel.
Title: A Hole in the Sky
Author: Peter F. Hamilton
Length: 9 hours, 52 minutes