Go/No-Go: Under the Empyrean Sky

nasa-mission-control-3I was super excited earlier this month to learn Chuck Wendig would be writing the entire Aftermath trilogy, and I hadn’t even read any of this books yet. Chuck is a delight on Twitter, and his blog is super informative for writers and always full of interesting stories and commentary on current events. I grew even more excited after reading the Aftermath excerpt. His prose seemed tight and catchy, and the present tense singled it out from all the other Expanded Universe books.

I wanted to check out some of Chuck’s fiction, to get a better sense of what he’d be bringing to the Star Wars Universe. The first two books of his young adult series were recently on sale, in anticipation of the release of Book Three. And since Chuck himself has suggested that series for people wanting to see how he’d handle Star Wars, that series became the logical choice.

Brian and I both finished the first book and are onto the second. What did we think? Our opinions after the break!

CAPCOM Nanci: I don’t normally read much YA fiction, but when I do I’m always reminded of how easy they are to read. Perhaps some people would look down on this, and claim that YA and middle grade books are too immature. As for me, I find that YA and MG books lack the pretentiousness that can sometimes bog down adult genre fiction.

under the empyrean skyUnder the Empyrean Sky joins the ranks of YA books I read through super fast. The first thing that struck me about the story was Wendig’s wordsmithing. The man has a way with words unlike any author I’ve read before. A lot of complaints floated around the internet in the wake of the Aftermath excerpt; some people hated that it was in present tense, and decried the apparent lack of grammar and short sentences. I pointed out that this was all part of the author’s style, and not an indication of bad writing. I found Wendig’s writing style super easy to read, and it helped suck me into the story.

The plot could have been your standard dystopian fare, but Wendig throws that genre on its head and invents a whole new subgenre, which he calls cornpunk. Under the Empyrean Sky is set in a far-future world in which the majority of folks live in the Heartland, that’s been overrun by corn, while the elite of the Empyrean live in flotillas soaring high above the land. The plot zigs and zags and doesn’t let you take a breath for all its 26 chapters. (I’m only 5 chapters into Book 2, Blightborn, and I can already tell it’s going to be the same way.) The characters are real. The teenagers curse and–gasp!–have sex. The adults are super flawed, but not the stupid adults that sometimes make up books about kids.

I really, really enjoyed this book. If you’re curious about Aftermath, definitely give it a GO. (And even if you’re not curious, go ahead and read it, too.)

RETRO Brian: Right off the bat I’m going to echo Nanci’s sentiments on Wendig’s way with words. I lost count of the number of times I found myself grinning over some creative or beautifully crass phrase he put together. People have spent a whole lot of time gnashing their teeth and rending their garments over whether or not Wendig’s prose style is a good fit for Star Wars. Well, I can tell you that you need to stop worrying. It doesn’t matter what tense or style an author uses. When they have the grasp on prose that Wendig has, it’s going to be good.

Under the Empyrean Sky looks like a typical YA dystopia on the surface. The world and scope are a bit constrained, but that doesn’t matter one lick. This story is carried on the characterization and pacing. It’s just impossible to put down, as evidenced by me finishing off about eighty percent of the book in one sitting over one evening. It was further carried by the choice to write it in third-person present. Every choice in regards to the prose, the characters, and plot felt deliberate. Nothing was wasted, and that created a tremendous book.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner. Suffice to say, I’m already knee deep in the sequel. Under the Empyrean Sky gets a GO from me.

Launch director’s ruling: Under the Empyrean Sky gets a big GO from us!


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