Create space independent publishing Platform, 2013. 354 pages.
by Odin Halvorson
In his debut young-adult novel Embassy, S. Alex Martin creates a detailed and impressive sci-fi landscape, through which a tale of mental wellbeing and personal growth is told with clarity and strength, set against the sprawling science fiction landscape of advanced technology and global catastrophe.
The novel follows Arman Lance, a young man who suffers from guilt over his father’s death, believing he was the cause. He doggedly forces himself to live, his every step weighted with feelings of inadequacy and remorse. While the larger plot deals intimately with the aspect of ecological disaster and society’s response to it, the true pillar of the story is given to us in the very first chapter, when we are introduced to Arman as he listens to a speaker at his father’s memorial service, “We Narvidians have a saying,” Ambassador Gantz says. He speaks slowly, and with a harsh accent, one native to his home planet. 'Darall ravams.’ In Standard, it means, ‘We are revealed at death.’"
This statement, “we are revealed at death,” hints at the true exploration taking place in this series. Not the outer world of spaceships, planets, and environmental catastrophe, but the inner world; the troubled psyche of a young man who must face the death of his egoic self in order to be revealed as more than a broken child standing in his father’s shadow. The themes Embassy deals with, therefore, are especially impactful for its target young-adult audience, who are undergoing this very same aspect of the heroic journey from childhood to adulthood. What Martin manages to pull off in this case is an exploration of what it feels like to truly face the prospect of leaving childhood behind, and he captures it from Arman Lance’s own internal perspective perfectly.
As Arman Lance takes his first steps into the larger galaxy as part of the Embassy Program (the illustrious interplanetary directive designed to foster diplomacy between the colony worlds of mankind), his inner world is in turmoil. Directionless anger drives him forward, fueled by feelings of inadequacy and a belief in his complicity in his own father’s death. Far from accepting the burden of adulthood, he remains fixated on a childhood romance from years before, trapped by fantasies of a love he believes will heal him. He sees enemies in everyone, especially his friends from school, and he teeters upon the edge of a dark psychological abyss that threatens to swallow him whole. Until Glacia Haverns arrives on the scene.
In the tried and true format of classic young adult novels, it is the romance arc which provides one of the principle movement points for the story. Glacia is a talented and energetic young woman who embodies the motto “Carpe Diem.” She greets the world head-on, and when it refuses to budge she socks it in the jaw. Just as Arman explores the depressive qualities of the young adult experience, Glacia expresses the opposite–– a formidable passion and drive towards excellence that sweeps Arman out of his unconscious state. The process is slow, as Arman resists all contact with the world around him, but when Glacia finally breaks through to him we begin to see his potential to become a fully realized individual. Midway through the book, after taking Arman into the desert far from the bustle of the urban landscape, Glacia points toward the horizon:
“Look at it.”
And I do. The Embassy sits alone in the dark. The Crown rises from the center and the other towers peak around it. Lights shine between the gaps of buildings and in the rows of windows. I can reach out and hold the city in my palm.
I shiver again, suddenly terrified. My whole life I’ve been contained to one city on one planet […] For the first time I truly realize what I truly am: a piece of it [the world].
And the story expands from there into the larger world, literally, as Arman, Glacia, and his peers all set off on an interplanetary mission of aid. The world of Belvun is suffering from a total ecological collapse as the human-made climate changes caused by terraforming threaten to extinguish all life on one of the few habitable planets known to man. Mirroring the threat of our real-world ecological disaster, Embassy takes a proactive approach as the characters work together to discover a solution for the environmental degradation, giving the book a far more progressive and, in some sense, uplifting quality than many other popular young adult novels.
Martin is still early in his writing career, and his work shows signs of growth in-progress, but the intelligence and passion evident in his work is both moving and invigorating. For a self-published writer, especially, this is a work of quality and originality, and will provide any reader with a stirring journey through the depths of consciousness and the frontiers of time.