One hundred thirty-two years ago, three generation starships left Earth on a journey to the Tau Ceti system, 11.9 light-years distant. They are now within months of Braking Day, the time when they will reverse direction and fire up the engines to slow their descent to a planet they hope will be friendly to human life. They are the fifth, sixth, and seventh-generation descendants of the First Crew who departed more than a century ago. The 30,000 people on board hope to begin new lives and a new civilization in orbit around a new sun.
Environmentalists oppose the landing
But there are those among them, the BonVoys (“Bon Voyageurs”), extreme environmentalists who are opposed to landing at all because they do not want to harm whatever life may already exist on their Destination World. (“No landing! No pollution! Save! Their! World!”) And that is merely one of the conflicts we witness in the pages of Braking Day, the promising debut novel of Scottish-Nigerian author Adam Oyebanji.
Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji (2022) 368 pages ★★★★☆
A rigid, class-based system
The novel’s protagonist is Ravinder (Ravi) MacLeod, now a midshipman in training as an engineer on the Archimedes. He is the descendant of a long line of ne’er-do-wells and criminals. His own father was “recycled” (“mulched”) for a lifetime of offenses against the established order. And those in positions of power, the Officer class, look on Ravi with disfavor, despite his obvious brilliance and the talent he shows as a trainee engineer.
Over the course of a century a rigid, class-based system has evolved. A handful of families now trade off among one another for the most senior positions in the crew. Unfortunately, Ravi has developed a hopeless crush on Sophie Ibori, daughter of one of the leading families. (Her uncle is Chief Navigator.) And he is constantly razzed about it by his friend, Vlad (Vladimir Ansimov) and his cousin Boz MacLeod. Meanwhile, Ravi and Vlad suffer constant humiliation at the hands of their teacher, Chief Engineer Chen Lai.
A talented young protagonist with prophetic dreams
Ravi is an unusual young man in many ways. His mother has encouraged him to break away from the pattern of crime established by his father and his father’s ancestors. The boy’s diligent work in his training program is proof that she has made headway. But Boz continues to value the rebellious ways of their family. Again and again, she draws Ravi into helping her evade the law. The close scrapes they experience only exacerbate the splitting headaches and lurid dreams he so frequently suffers through. And those dreams will prove to be pivotal in Ravi’s future. What he learns through his nighttime experiences will lead him and Boz into life-threatening situations . . . and bring the fleet close to annihilation.
Earmarks of a young adult novel
Although Braking Day isn’t marketed as a young adult novel, it reads that way. The principal characters—Ravi MacLeod and his cousin Boz, Vladimir Ansimov, Sophie Ibori—are all teenagers. There is no sexual activity. And the prolific use of profanity is disguised by nonsense words representing future forms. “Sard” and “sarding” for the F-words, for example. And “Archie-damned” for what you would expect. It’s awkward. But the clever plotting, the credible picture of life aboard the Archimedes and its sister ships, and the intriguing character development make up for it. This novel works, and Adam Oyebanji is worth watching for more to come.
About the author
Adam Oyebanji‘s publisher writes: “Of Scottish and Nigerian descent, Adam Oyebanji is an escapee from Birmingham University and Harvard Law School. He currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA with a wife, child, and two embarrassingly large dogs. When he’s not out among the stars, Adam works in the field of counter-terrorist financing: helping banks choke off the money supply that builds weapons of mass destruction, narcotics empires, and human trafficking networks.” Braking Day is Oyebanji’s first novel.
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