Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Brandon Sanderson - Defending Elysium [Short Story Review]

Above, beyond the buildings, beyond the air, Jason could Sense the specks of starlight in the sky. "Space is Elysium, Lanna. The place where heroes go when they die. The Varvax and the others, they've fought and bled, just like we have. They finally over came all of that—they paid their price and have earned their peace. I want to make certain their paradise remains such."

"By playing god?"

Jason fell silent. He didn't know how to reply, so he didn't. He simply stood, Sensing the paradise above and Evensong below.

Defending Elysium is a novel’s worth of content shrunk down into short story form. Imagine if you opened up Mistborn to, say, page five hundred and started reading. That’s something like what this feels like at first. I’m not saying that Defending Elysium is incoherent, mind you. Far from it. The world gradually does begin to make sense, but it does so through something more resembling gradual osmosis than any info dumps that I’ve ever seen. The entire thing feels almost like a jigsaw puzzle, and the reader’s primary job while reading is to try and put all the pieces together and make sense of the world. Once you do, the resulting picture is a fitting reward for your troubles.

The worldbuilding is deep, and everything we see only makes it more apparent how much there is under the surface. Everything strikes a good tone between humor and drama, and I challenge anyone to not be intrigued by the idea of the Phone Company dictating human policy. Of course, setting mysteries aren’t enough to keep the reader turning pages, and Sanderson knows this. Defending Elysium’s characters are engaging enough to keep you turning the pages while you wait for everything to click. Jason’s competence and Lanna’s amusing chattiness do a fine job of moving the story forward, but the best character by far is Coln Abrams, a sworn enemy of the Phone Company and who gives up his profession to find out his enemies secrets…or so he thinks.

Sanderson’s prose here is adequate, but not as polished as it would be in his later works. The dialogue, also, manages to be snappy and realistic for the most part. Unfortunately, things get awkward every once in a while, though not fatally so:

"A reporter," Lanna guessed.

"No," Jason said. "He's too well-equipped. Remember, he managed to hack into a secure FTL comm."

Yes, Jason, we do remember the events of five minutes ago.

Despite a few minor hiccups, Defending Elysium is an engaging and entertaining short story. If you want to just read on the surface, you get a fun ride. If you want to go a bit deeper, you get some food for thought. None of it is completely original, but all of it is well done and well worth the click necessary to read it.

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