Unto Leviathan by Richard Paul Russo

Unto Leviathan is the story of the Aragonos, a generation ship travelling the galaxy and occupied by an eclectic mix of several thousand crew members, families and clergymen. Due to rebellion that took place over one hundred years ago, records of the mission have been lost, so the ship wanders space, looking for aliens and possibly a planet they can settle on. (At least, I think that’s what they’re looking for). The story is told from the point of view of Bartolomeo, the captain’s adviser and confidante.

Having landed on alien planet, the crew discovers evidence of a massacre, and an alien transmission that leads them back into space to a derelict starship, and a trap set by malevolent aliens.

Unto Leviathan book cover

Now, I’m not quite sure why the story lost it for me; it may have been the narrator who was an interesting if unlikeable character. The author decided to make him severely disabled, which was fair enough, except it didn’t really affect the story in any way. Bartolomeo was equipped with an exoskeleton so he had no trouble getting around the ship or alien planets; he suffered none of the hardships of being disabled, so I thought it was an interesting facet of the character which was somewhat underused. Still, at least he was consistently portrayed (as we’re all the characters), and the somewhat fluid relationship between the captain and Bartolomeo was one of the most interesting aspects of the book.

But it was one of those novels that left a lot of loose threads untied before finishing rather abruptly: we never found out why they were in space, why the aliens massacred the colony, why they attempted to capture the Araganos, why the explorers of the alien vessel were driven insane … I think what wasn’t explained could’ve made another book.

And while not uncovering a lot of pertinent information, the story wandered back and forth between the two ships, randomly disposing of various crew-members in strange, unexplained circumstances.

And while all this is going on, Bartomoleo falls in love with Father Veronica, one of a number of priests travelling on the generation ship. Needless to say, it never really goes anywhere. Father Veronica was a decent enough character, but she was really the focus of something else I had a problem with; the whole book seemed very geared towards religion. Much of the time, it felt like I was being preached at. If it was an integral part of the story, I wouldn’t have minded so much, but there was a lot of it, and I wondered if the extra pages could have been better used in explaining what was actually going on.

Now, if I were to offer a possible reason why this book left me in the dark, it was possibly the first-person narrator; Bartomoleo can’t possibly know what the aliens are thinking, and he wasn’t present at any of the massacres, and he wasn’t in the aliens’ heads. He was as much in the dark as I was.

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