I'm not a huge fan of horror fiction myself, and lately I find myself reading less sci-fi and more literary fiction and a whole lot of middle-grade fiction. But I do appreciate a good sci-fi tale from time to time. Containment is a hard sci-fi book from first-time novelist Christian Cantrell. It's the story of the first permanent human colony in space — more specifically, on Venus.

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Christian Cantrell , colonization , Containment , Earth , hard sci-fi , post-cyberpunk , Venus. When I picked it up, Containment seemed like an interesting choice. It picks an interesting location to set its story: a colony on Venus. The planet is just considered too unforgiving to set up shop. Naturally, I wanted to see how the topic was handled.

Hard sci-fi, check. Interesting premise, check. As it turns out, the reality falls a little short, and the result is a highly flawed book with occasional flashes of brilliance. Some parts are really good, while others just drag on and on. In the end, Containment had many of the makings of being a modern hard sf classic, but unfortunately was unable to put them together in a satisfying way.

The story follows Arik Ockley, one of the first humans born on Venus. His home, V1, is a self-contained dome on the Venusian surface similar to that of the Biosphere project.

Arik is a brilliant computer scientist, one of the few people to ever master controlling a computer solely by brain activity. His skillset is used to work on one of the biggest problems facing V1 — the generation of oxygen. As it turns out, the oxygen supply has been a major issue since the colony began. When planning for the first generation of humans born in V1, administration makes the inexplicable decision to allow as many people as possible to be born, safety margins be damned.

Earth has been on the verge of environmental crisis for several centuries, and while things are looking on the up and up, the administrators are still treating planning as if Earth could collapse at any moment. His secret research takes him outside the sheltered dome of V1, where he is nearly killed in a serious accident.

That accident has left him with little memory relating to his prior research. However, the behavior of some of his associates post-accident makes him suspicious of what is really going on. To make things a little more rough on Arik, his wife Cadie is now three months pregnant.

The clock begins ticking on whether he can piece together the circumstances surrounding his accident, or solve the seemingly insurmountable problem of artificial photosynthesis.

The biggest structural problem with the story lies in its lack of focus. The book begins with a nifty moral quandary, ala The Cold Equations. That story poses an interesting problem — a stowaway on an express freight spaceship puts it over its weight limit.

Because it is over the weight limit, the freighter does not have enough fuel to slow it down before it lands. The freighter is carrying vaccines to a colony facing an epidemic.

The question posed: who gets sacrificed? The stowaway, or a few vials of vaccine that may prove critical to the survival of the colony? Containment poses a similar problem.

The clues that he left for himself prior to his accident lead him to believe that his work would give the colony astounding long-term success. However, the survival of his own daughter depends on him finishing his research on artificial photosynthesis. Should he successfully solve the problem, he might be erased from the colony. Should Arik opt for the long-term success of the colony, or act for the short-term success of his offspring?

The question that the situation raises is interesting, but frustratingly, is one that Containment goes out of its way to avoid answering. He ventures out, and learns that V1 is actually located in Antarctica. The Earth is in worse shape than the administrators have lead him to believe. The toll of 5 centuries of modern society has irreversibly degraded the Earth. Within its walls are the only clean air and water for hundreds of miles. I felt that the author actually handled the plot twist itself quite well.

The story builds up to the reveal kind of slowly, and leaves some little hints of what the twist actually is. Once it happens, a lot of the little quirks that were present in the early stages of the story fall into place. However, the twist was very dangerously close to being pulled too late. Arik had reached his peak character development, and most of the new things that we learn about V1 are kind of irrelevant.

I think the worst thing about the plot twist is that way too much time was spent infodumping the false history of V1. Sitting down and looking at it, the proposition keeps getting more and more absurd. Another problem with this history is that even the author recognized it was too much — it was split into three chapters to serve as a break. When you get to that point that even you recognize that something is too much, you really need to break out the editorial scissors. Some of the material in that history is kind of silly, too.

For example, it spends a paragraph describing how the problem of consumer waste was solved: making offenders wear silly clothes and use the media culture to shame them until they reform their ways. Another big issue with the book is its really poor characterization. Arik is extremely well-developed as a character. Everyone else in the story felt like a plot device.

Other characters are even worse — we get names, indications of an underlying motivation, but they end up being so one dimensional that I realized that this was one of the biggest missed opportunities of the book. Had some of the main players been developed to the extent of Arik, the story would have been much, much better, even with all of the flaws that I pointed out.

The lack of characterization really comes back to bite the story in the ass at the end. But even here the story fails to follow through. All of these flaws make the story a mess. With some better editorial direction it could have been one of the top sf novels of One thing that Mr. Cantrell does well is describing systems engineering.

There is also some philosophy of technology tucked into the story in a very non-infodumpy way. He shows the signs of being capable of very good writing, given the focus.

I think if the focus had been shifted away from writing a pseudo-history of V1 and onto developing the characters a little more, Containment might have been considered a modern hard sf classic. Instead, its flaws weigh it down to little more than mediocre. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account.

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When the maglev stopped in front of the Wrench Pod, Cam and Zaire were standing on the platform. Arik knew that things would be awkward between he and Cam, but as he watched them step into the last section and seat themselves opposite himself and Cadie, it occurred to him that things could also be very awkward between Cadie and Zaire. He wondered how much Zaire knew about the baby. Had she encouraged Cam to do what he did, or was it possible that she didn't even know that the baby had once been her husband's? How would her feelings toward Cadie affect her feelings toward Arik, and how would all their emotions influence their ability to listen objectively to what Arik had to tell them? Arik realized that the moving parts that drove human emotion and interaction were far more intricate and delicate and explosive than anything found inside manmade machinery. He knew that in order to change all of their lives, he needed to tear down everything that had been built up between tem, compact it all down into a clean and solid foundation on top of which he could start building something completely new, something with no moving parts, something so towering and imposing that none of them could dismiss it.


Venus Colonists Struggle With Containment

The colony on Venus was not built because the destruction of Earth was possible, but because it was inevitable A brilliant young scientist and one of the first humans born on Venus, Arik works tirelessly to perfect the science of artificial photosynthesis, a project crucial to the future of his home, V1. The colony was built on the harsh Venusian surface by the Founders, the first humans to establish a permanent extraterrestrial settlement. Arik's research becomes critical when he awakens from an unexplained, near-fatal accident and learns that his wife is three months pregnant. Unless Arik's research uncovers a groundbreaking discovery, V1's oxygen supply will not be able to support the increase in population that his baby represents. As Arik works against time, he begins to untangle the threads of his accident, which seem inextricably linked to what lies outside the protective walls of Va world where the caustic atmosphere and extreme heat make all forms of known life impossible. For its entire existence, Arik's generation has been expected to help solve the problems of colonization.


Containment (Christian Cantrell)

Christian Cantrell , colonization , Containment , Earth , hard sci-fi , post-cyberpunk , Venus. When I picked it up, Containment seemed like an interesting choice. It picks an interesting location to set its story: a colony on Venus. The planet is just considered too unforgiving to set up shop.


Containment (Children of Occam Book 1) by Christian Cantrell

But after I finished Containment I was just thrilled. I actually wanted more. Yes, there is a large amount of detail when it comes to the technology… but it is a SCIENCE fiction book, so expect to have some kind of science in it. The things that Cantrell chose to explain in detail made the book better in my opinion by allowing my mind to not wander and wonder how or why something worked the way it did. On to characters — they were all very believable with a few twists and turns included. There are definite protagonists and even an unexpected antagonist. He allowed my mind to wonder who is good and bad which I enjoyed.

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