The Outcasts of Heaven Belt is a book I started reading months ago, put down after the first few chapters, and picked it up again recently and started over from the beginning. I am glad I gave the book another shot. The first few chapters are sad and overwhelming. Much more important than the tragedy that opens the story, though, is Vince’s moving depiction of how memory, grief, and the need for continued survival can all coexist and drive a recovery. The characters are our main lenses into the societies of Heaven Belt, and as flawed and unlikeable as some of them are, they feel tangible and believable.
Betha and the Ranger’s role as outsiders from Morningside fallen into the chaos of Heaven Belt sets up the inevitable comparisons between the three main societies of Heaven Belt: The Demarchists, The Ringers, and Lansing. Each society has adapted to the fall of Heaven Belt and their new-found vulnerability to environmental threats in different ways. This felt incredibly strong, especially given how each society’s available resources and territory guided their differential responses. One weakness is an over-reliance on telling rather than showing. There are some examples where Vince directly shows the culture in action, such as the mediamen circus on Betha’s arrival in the Demarchy, or where Vince uses characters behavior to get at social norms, for example Shadow Jack’s treatment of others, and these scenes are very effective. Scenes where characters spend a paragraph describing their culture and explaining how it’s different to the other feel more contrived.
One key aspect to each society is how they protect their women from cosmic radiation, and thus ensure the continuation of their society with a new generation of healthy children. None of the cultures fare very well by the standards of current Western society, but what makes this especially interesting is how these societies are confronted by an ‘alien’ ship captained by a woman, visibly challenging their beliefs and shaking their conviction. An explanation of why men are not similarly prized against the radiation is less convincing, although at one point a character explains they can freeze sperm, but not ova, which seems reasonable enough.
Confusingly enough, the ending was simultaneously utterly contrived feeling while also feeling perfectly reasonable and believable. Still not entirely sure how that’s possible.
COVER ART REVIEW: I love it! The gas giant and the teeny planetoid in the bottom right corner caught my eye as being particular awesome, and the ships are gorgeous. A great example of vintage cover art.