The story of Siberia 56 owes much to 1950s cult classic movie Forbidden Planet (and indeed, is even referenced within the story). Taking modern thriller sensibilities from the likes of Alien and The Thing, Siberia 56 can feel like it travels very familiar territory in its very cinematic approach. Beautiful visuals smartly washed in watercolor complement an atmospheric take on sci fi horror that works in man places but oddly falls flat in characterization. As such, this is a good read but not a great one; it doesn’t elevate beyond its inspirations despite a sophisticated nonlinear storyline.
Siberia 56 is a planet with icy extremes but suitable for remote colonization. When the colony’s 8 yearly replacements arrive, an emergency forces a crash landing of their shuttle 150 miles off course [oddly enough, they still use Imperial measurements in the future]. In journeying to the colony, they will fight the planet’s weather conditions as well as the few predatory creatures that survive in the harsh environment. But the predators are only one of the concerns as they also come across an alien civilization ruins that are millions of years old. It may not just be the the planet that doesn’t want the humans there……
I greatly appreciated that the story unfolds in interesting ways – sometimes starting in the past and sometimes starting in the future. All threads are relevant, however, to the main plot and therefore readers won’t feel lost or annoyed at the jumps. There is one protagonist and it is his story that we follow to the bitter end.
As much as I enjoyed the story, it did fall flat in some areas (pacing issues) and I had logic issues throughout. E.g., no information about an apex predator that is devastating the planet nor about the alien civilization that they knew existed was in the records given to the new colonists – only the smaller predators were discussed. That seemed odd considering there was no conspiracy to hide information and one would think that in the 50(?) odd years that the place had been colonized, no one had bothered to analyze the biggest threat or the mysterious alien civilization? What the heck were the other colonists doing there, then, other than building a large facility? And why wouldn’t the invisible entity stalking them not be in the predator information?
Author Bec isn’t afraid to kill off characters and the body count can get pretty deadening. There are great moments of pathos but it is kind of killed by the apathetic responses to the situations by our main colonist. He just seems to be moving in a fog and important moments are given a tell or a show that should resonate more than they do. It was hard to get into any of the characters or even differentiate them other than male or female and then dead body. Too much time/emphasis is given on some areas and then not enough time is spent in others.
I have to admit, most of the actions/situations of the characters felt very deus ex machina in order to create ‘poignant moments’. As such, they never really felt authentic and fell very flat. I didn’t have any reaction as I should have and nothing really made me ponder any of the book after I had completed it. I didn’t agree with or understand any of the choices the characters made and so I kind of just waited for the repercussions knowing that they would be bad.
The illustration work suits the story well as does the washed out coloring. If anything, I found the coloring to be the best part of Siberia 56 with its tones of blues and whites – a story set in ice/snow could be very bland but the scapes do come alive with the color. I just wish the people were a bit more differentiated – they all began to look alike at some point and I couldn’t tell the difference any more (even with the women, oddly enough).
In all, it wasn’t a terrible book by any means but admittedly the Forbidden Planet references (e.g., the movie came out in 1956 and this novel is Siberia 56) were a bit too strong (not literally but in the idea of the main villain and psychological themes) and pulled me out of the story. I was oddly disaffected and disenfranchised throughout – I felt like I had already read this story before/someone had taken various sci fi movie storylines and pieced them together. I wish this added something new to the genre but it just didn’t. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.