These days, listening to the SFF community recommeding books reminds me of listening to my parents trying to coax a much younger me into eating Brussels sprouts. Whether it’s to choke down another vegetable or to support the newest in a never ending parade of social causes du jour, the reason is the same: It’s Good For You. In both cases, precious little time is spent answering the one question that matters to me. Will I like it? In that spirit, let me take a moment to speak to the sense of wonder of those who might be on the fence about buying Nethereal, by Brian Neiemeier.
Space Pirates Go to Hell.
One might expect that Nethereal would be about a series of just but cruel punishments served to a crew of hardened criminals. I certainly did after reading that description online. However, the space captain, Jaren Peregrine, is a mysterious yet charismatic leader who wages a personal rebellion against a Guild that holds all space travel in its iron grip. His crew follows him out of loyalty, not lucre. And in the pursuit of his war, Jaren flies his ship straight through Hell itself.
For anime fans, think Captain Harlock instead of Peter Pan’s Captain Hook.
Hell in Nethereal is not the lake of fire of current religious depictions. Instead, it is patterned after the Nine Circles of Dante’s Inferno, complete with cities of the damned, backstabbing demon lords, and horrors, but built vast enough to fly a spaceship through. Like the Inferno, the only escape is to go deeper through the horrors of the Circles, to the heart of Hell and beyond. Yet Nethereal chooses inspiration instead of a direct science fiction retelling of the Inferno. (For that, I recommend Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno and Escape from Hell.) This gives the adventures of Jaren and his crew a Blake’s 7 meets Firefly meets Event Horizon flavor.
I could go on about how Nethereal is a genre-blending amalgam of science fiction, fantasy, and horror harkening back to the days of D&D’s Appendix N and the pulps, but that’s starting to veer too close to “It’s Good For You”, at least for my own sense of wonder. Fortunately, we have an entire month to delve into the plots and the characters that flesh out Nethereal from the concept of “Space Pirates Go to Hell” into the wonderful novel that robbed me of sleep when I first read it.
You can buy Nethereal at Amazon.com.