Moral and ethical conundrums dominate in this futuristic science fiction adventure.
Variance by Josen Llave is a militaristic action-adventure story that takes place in the distant future and revolves around differing systems of belief and aspects of cultural self-reflection.
Paul Benedict and his family are Utopians, members of a post-Earth society that prizes the virtue of all life. The planet they live on is being targeted by an alien species, so Paul and his family set out to invent technology that can defeat the threat. This endeavor leads Paul to become embroiled in an intergalactic gladiatorial competition known as Divine Might, even though participation goes against his pacifistic beliefs. If Paul and his AI, Siren, can win the competition, they can ensure peace and prosperity for all Utopians.
Throughout the course of this quick-moving story, Paul struggles with many questions of morality, including the choice of damning a few to save many and engaging in wrong actions for the greater good. These questions set a philosophical tone that never quite comes to fruition, especially since many of the compelling conundrums that arise are never fully reconciled.
In nearly every chapter, Paul wonders how he can call himself a Utopian if he participates in a blood sport. Still, there is never any form of direct resolution to his internal struggle, though he continues to fight against his judgment and cultural mores.
While there are not an overwhelming number of characters in the book, the fast pace leads to secondary characters falling between the cracks. Even as tensions rise and the Divine Might competition continues to get harder and harder, it becomes more difficult to connect to the competitors. Characters tend to blur together, categorized either as other fighters or as Paul’s family. Paul, too, suffers in this regard. His dialogue feels forced, and his inner monologues vary little. His thoughts revolve around his family and how much he loves them, but these read as emotional ploys.
The story itself proves hard to connect to, even if on the surface it appears relatable. As the plot progresses, settings widen without explanation; more extensive world-building would be helpful in a story built so much on science fiction themes.
Probably as a setup for sequels, the story remains complicated to the end. There is rising action without denouement, and little sense of accomplishment after the climax. The ending lacks the power of the violent fight scenes that lead up to it.
Variance is an energetic novel with a lightning-fast pace.
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the author will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.