MINI REVIEW: PERFECT STATE
Last year I read SIXTH OF THE DUSK, a novella by Brandon Sanderson, as part of the 2015 BookTube SFF Awards. While I didn't think that any particular part of Sanderson's writing stood out, the culmination of how he wove all the pieces together is what struck me. It all came together to form one of the most memorable stories I've ever read. This year, another one of Sanderson's novellas made the shortlist for best short fiction and I bought it on Kindle without hesitation. PERFECT STATE looked like it would be even bigger and bolder than SIXTH OF THE DUSK so I got pretty hyped to read this. Thankfully, Sanderson struck gold a second time for me with this one!
HOW I RATED IT
5/5 This took me on one of the most creative and cerebral narrative joyrides I've ever taken. It was fun, it was innovative, the imagery was lush, and there's a certain glamour to everything. It's a must read for basically anyone.
Kai is the main man of this novella. He's kind of your typical every-man, but on steroids. See he's the supreme ruler of his world. He's conquered all of the rival kingdoms and factions, won the adoration of his people, and is practically indestructible. Most importantly, he's content. In the absence of wars to win, he's devoted himself to studying the art of lancing which is basically this world's form of magic and the main source of his demigod-like power. That contentment changes when he's summoned by the people who control his world and others like it. They want him to meet a woman from a different world and make a baby with her. The motivation behind this plot point is a little odd for reasons I'll get to, but Kai's adventure begins when he has to depart from his home-world and step into one that isn't ruled by someone of his kind. It's instead a kind of meeting ground where special people like himself can meet up on neutral ground where things are a bit more sanctioned than usual. It was great to see a medieval-type character enter into a bit more modern a world for the first time and watch him adapt to the new surroundings. It's even cooler to see how he interacts with a woman who is every bit his equal in that this is really the first time he's ever had to encounter anyone as excellent as himself. Their interactions are quite entertaining and the way that their relationship comes to a climax left me absolutely breathless.
There are some other great characters in this too, though most have very small roles save for the main antagonist who is a mysterious figure that operates from the shadows. It was nice to have a relatively sizable cast in such a short work of fiction and while many characters aren't all that developed, they are vibrant enough to make a distinct presence.
What's most interesting about this world is that there are actually a bunch of different worlds. Most are just referenced, but readers do get to see two of them: Kai's medieval homeworld and the classical urban citys-cape that reminded me of a Sherlock-eque London with a few technological upgrades. Both are very well described and have polar opposite feels to them. Kai's world is a magical fantasy utopia while the neutral world is starkly grounded and dreary, but in a strangely vibrant way. The idea of a universe where worlds can be this different is something I've never really seen in a work of fiction (except maybe in something like Disney's KINGDOM HEARTS (videogame series) or WRECK IT RALPH (animated film)). It's definitely something that is a rare treat for a science fiction and fantasy fan like myself and I only regret that there wasn't a bit more of this universe that I got to explore.
Readers find out very early into the story that none of this is actually real, at least in the way that we might consider reality. Kai is what's called a "liveborn" which means that he's a real person, or at least a part of a person. Due to overpopulation, many people's minds are extracted into jars where they soak in proteins and live out their lives in simulated worlds tailored to who they are and what they're best at. The rest of the "people" in Kai's world are simulated entities that while self-aware, are also not truly living. Unlike Neo, Kai can't just take a colorful pill and escape The Matrix. This IS his reality, even if it is just a fiction designed to challenge and entertain him. It's this truth that forms the bond between Kai and his date. Both are a little disillusioned with the fact that they can only ever live in this artificially constructed reality. While there are certainly some nice perks to existing in a universe where everything is possible, there are also some heavy implications to the fact that their lives are always manipulated by people in charge of the simulation so that they are always challenged, but never so much so that they can't overcome the obstacles set before them. This source of philosophical conflict ramps up at a smooth pace that quickly escalates into the heart-thumping climax and thought-provoking conclusion.
Sanderson's novellas are just too good not to read. They're creative, well-constructed, and more than worth what little time they take to get through. I did feel like there was maybe a little more of the story that could be told, but at the same time, there's a whole mess of great ideas that are introduced and then neatly wrapped up within the span of some relatively small narrative real estate. Without a doubt, this is short fiction done right. I think I need to dive into a bit more of Sanderson's ASAP.
PERFECT STATE can be found in Kindle and audioBook formats on Amazon.