Sovereign Earth: The Year Before the End
Sovereign Earth: The Year Before the End is a science fiction book that leans more heavily on science than most stories in that genre.
The more you understand about science, particularly the laws of gravity, the more you’ll enjoy it. The story is only about 200 pages, and the pace rarely slows down for long.
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About Sovereign Earth: The Year Before the End
In the near future, humanity has acquired alien technology via radio transmissions broadcast from other worlds. This technology has allowed us to create “gates:” spaceships can travel through one specific gate and emerge from a matching gate immediately.
Humanity has used this technology to rapidly colonize our solar system while they await the completion of a new gate that can transport ships to and from our nearest stellar neighbor Alpha Centauri.
The story follows Captain Zara “Zo” Ortega and her crew as they are hired to uncover a conspiracy regarding hostile intentions towards any visitors who might come through the Alpha Centauri gate when it’s completed. But they quickly learn that nobody can be trusted…even their most loyal friends.
My Thoughts on Sovereign Earth: The Year Before the End
Being a big science fiction nerd, I was able to easily recognize where many of the story elements were inspired from. Stargate, Contact, and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 all had an influence on the story, and there was even an Ocean’s 11-style heist thrust into the middle of it.
The prose of the writing is easy to follow, and whenever the story shifts to a new setting, the author makes sure to describe the surroundings in explicit detail. I often felt like I was watching the scenes unfold on a television rather than on a page.
That sort of visualization is immensely helpful for any stories set in unfamiliar locations, and the author does a splendid job of that here.
My main criticism of the story is that most of the characters are bland, and only a handful of them are fleshed out enough to make them seem like real people. The rest are interchangeable with each other, so I would have appreciated a better effort in helping me to care about who these people were and what their motivations were.
This is the first book in a series of six, and I am hoping the characters are much more developed as the series continues.
Science fiction stories are a dime a dozen, and so any new story in that genre needs to have something that the other stories don’t have. The author’s emphasis on how space travel and gravity on spaceships should really work (compared to, say, Star Trek) helps the story stand out from its peers.
Sovereign Earth: The Year Before the End is the first in a six-book series titled Sovereign Earth. While the narrative of this book ends rather abruptly, it does set itself up for the sequel rather neatly, and I look forward to seeing where the story will take Zo and her companions.
This was the first book from Vidar Hokstad that I’ve read, and I’m glad to say that it will not be the last!
Have you read Sovereign Earth: The Year Before the End? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Read more of my book reviews here.
About Vidar Hokstad
Vidar Hokstad grew up in Oslo, Norway. He has been writing for himself most of his life, but focused on a career in technology. The Year Before the End is his first published novel. He lives in London with his son.
I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Vidar Hokstad about Sovereign Earth: The Year Before the End and some other upcoming works! I had questions!
I mentioned that the story drew inspiration from Stargate, Contact, and Deep Space 9. Were there any other movies or shows that I missed which helped inspire your story?
I think the Battlestar Galactica remake and Babylon 5 perhaps deserve mentions (though an infuriating number of people thought it was set in the Babylon 5 universe purely because of the mention of Centauri, and the use of a cylindrical space station).
Both mostly because of ongoing story arcs that cut across individual episodes, similar to Stargate and DS9. Sovereign Earth is meant to be just the first of 10 or so cycles that while they can be read standalone while driving a bigger underlying narrative similar in scale.
You gave many detailed descriptions about how zero-G space travel works and how spinning space stations give the illusion of gravity. All of this seems accurate from what I know about the laws of physics. Did you study physics in school?
I didn’t take much physics. I have enough of a superficial understanding to be “dangerous” as they say. With respect to the gravity, there’s a handy online tool that lets you calculate perceived gravity at different sizes and speeds called SpinCalc.
I found it early because getting the description right especially for Vanguard to make the break-in work felt like it was necessary, and in terms of realism, gravity is one of the big areas where softer scifi tends to handwave away the problem, and yet I tend to feel that creating constraints to work around is a great tool.
E.g. having to think about how docking works to the different space stations made a big difference to the story – it’s an excuse for low security around the outer cylinder of Vanguard, for example, that you’d have to deal with the speed it’s spinning at
One thing that stood out to me was that the story ended abruptly, and the expected climax (the gate coming online) happened “off-screen.” Was this a deliberate choice?
Yes, it was deliberate. You get a brief description of the gate coming online at the start of book #2, but I wanted the first book to be explicitly about the fear and the conspiracies and conflicts leading up to the gate coming online, also because it sets up some of the background conflicts that will drive not just the rest of this 6 book cycle but will carry over into the next.
What was the most difficult part of the story to write?
The dialogue, hands down. As you can tell from the beginning of the book, in particular, I like exposition. I could write a whole book full of just world-building. It took me a while to get used to making the characters talk more.
Not least because I’m an introvert myself and I had to force myself to insert conversations in places where I would have been content to just quietly get on with things but where having some dialogue is necessary to convey things to the reader in a more dynamic way.
I think book 2 shows quite a lot of difference there (at least one review has pointed out the difference in the amount of dialogue), and that’s after I went back and added more dialogue during a rewrite.
I’m never going to give up extensive descriptions and world-building as I’m in part writing what I like to read, and it’s getting easier, but it’s taking a lot of effort.
Other than the Sovereign Earth series, do you have any other projects that you’re working on?
I’m writing a few short stories (a few are on my website and I have a long list of things I want to write stories about. The story ideas largely centre on the Simulation Argument – the notion that if a small set of hypotheses are true, we most likely live in a simulation. I’m toying with a couple of ideas for novels in a related setting, or possibly a short story collection.
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