Long Space Trip of Joshua Dalzelle
When an author finds their rightful niche, they tend to get comfortable and simply dish out one novel in the same vein as the next. There aren’t too many out there willing to experiment and slither out of their comfort zone, which is a shame considering all the talent waiting to be revealed. Some would have said Joshua Dalzelle belonged to this group of people, having penned many science-fiction novels revolving around alien invasions and galaxy-saving heroes. However, in his latest standalone novel titled Blueshift , he has certainly left his comfort zone to deliver us a sci-fi novel which, besides the genre, is vastly different than what we’re used to seeing from him. Rather than being all about nail-biting action, it’s more about resolving the mystery of humanity’s disappearance.
As the novel opens we are presented to a crew of people hired by an eccentric billionaire to explore a distant star in outer space. The catch lies in the fact it will take over eight hundred years to make the trip there and back to Earth. To complicate matters further, at the last second, the billionaire decides he will join the expedition himself. To everyone’s amazement, the journey turns out to be relatively successful despite them running into a few perils. When they make it back to Earth is when things take a turn for the strange; rather than an evolved humanity, what greets them back is utter silence. Without any signs of life to speak of, it seems as if humanity has up and vanished into thin air. With the crew suffering the psychological effects of all they had been through up until this point and their ship running on borrowed time, they race against the clock to uncover the incomprehensible mystery before them.
As one might expect, this isn’t the type of novel overflowing with characters, rather focusing on a small tightly-knit group of people who are more or less developing their own inner mini-society, so to speak. At the onset some of them might feel a bit typical, such as the captain who can barely keep the crew together, the genius scientist who never heard the concept of empathy, or the greasy mechanic who never fails to make a pass at the female crew members. It’s a combination of oddballs who seem to prefer staying out of each others’ ways, but as the plot moves onwards we slowly get an increasing impression there is more to them than meets the eye.
Joshua Dalzelle is an absolute master at making this small cast of characters fascinating, not only in terms of their personalities but also their interactions. Virtually every crew member, despite being a genius or extremely capable in one way or another, has some eccentricity or psychological issues to deal with. The immense weight of their eight hundred-year journey as well as their discovery when returning home is never forgotten throughout the book. We witness how each person deals with the situation in their own fashion and how their relations to each other are transformed as the story continues, making for some fascinating character development. As a matter of fact, in my opinion the dialogue is some of the best I’ve read in recent memory; each person has their own unique voice, and there is always something meaningful being conveyed, whether it’s about the story or the characters themselves. Ultimately, Dalzelle manages to portray them as flawed and complex human beings, trying to make the most of what little they have left.
The Greatest Murder Mystery
Moving on from the characters, we still have a rather ambitious premise for a story, the vanishing of human civilization. Even though we know it’s coming based on the book’s description, Dalzelle still builds up to it quite skillfully and takes his time to acquaint us with the universe we’re stepping into. It takes a few moments to get going, but once we begin delving into the actual mystery we’re all set up and ready to go. At that moment, the pace of novel picks up quite a bit as the twists and turns just keep on coming, seldom giving us a moment of respite to digest the implications of what we’re discovering, much like the characters themselves. It’s quite entertaining trying to figure out for yourself what ultimately happened to humanity, and whether or not you managed to guess it correctly the author doesn’t give you any certainty in that regard until the finale.
While this is a science-fiction story, I feel one of its main strengths is just how believably it’s all written. Dalzelle doesn’t introduce insane gadgets or concepts we could only dream of implementing in real life. Rather, it all stays very grounded and focuses much more on the characters and their predicament rather than the technological setting. The psychological and mystery aspects always remain at the forefront of the writing. In turn, I felt tearing down this technological barrier between the reader and the characters made it much easier to get into the story and relate to the people in it. This even created a stage favourable for the exploration of philosophical and sociological concepts which transcend scientific progress. Those include the meaning of home and family, the purpose of life with nothing left to live for, our simultaneous fear and fascination with the unknown and possible dynamics between humanity’s last survivors, just to mention a few.
The Final Verdict
Bringing this show to a close, Blueshift by Joshua Dalzelle is an exceptionally engaging science-fiction novel, different from what we’re used to seeing from the author in all the good ways. It has a magnificently-developed cast of complex characters and a plot which sinks its hooks into you with an extremely ambitious mystery. If you enjoy sci-fi novels which focus more on mystery and character development this will definitely be right up your alley.