Echelon by Z. A. Waterstone

Echelon by Z. A. WaterstoneMix ignorance with assumption and a little mad scientist, and you come close to the cultural conflicts that form the foundation of this novel. The story begins with a group of fugitive human survivors after an alien race, which visited Earth a long time ago, has returned and conquered it. Humans, considered a lesser species, have been enslaved while the Darushee have taken control of everything.

That might be a familiar premise, but Z. A. Waterstone doesn’t stop there. No, these humans have been doing wild experiments with the genetic material captured from the first Darushee to visit and have made themselves hybrids. They have the same mental capabilities as the Darushee who control the humans by inserting nightmares into their minds.

And even that’s not enough, because we get both sides of the picture as we learn about the alien culture and its unbreakable rules, which include that only beings who can walk in the mind space are sapient. Most humans can’t, and they’ve never met any who could. (It’s unclear if only the hybrids can or if the hybridization awoke latent abilities and therefore some normal humans might be able to as well, though the ability is clearly rare.)

We learn the above as the story unfolds, but though it seems like a lot, it is little more than a backdrop for the true story, one that has four separate layers and continues on past this book into the later ones (I assume as I’ve only read this one).

Maia, one of the human fugitives, escapes the fugitive camp to save her unborn child from being used in the new leader’s plans. Her husband, the scientist responsible for the hybridization, is dead, and the man who took over lacks his vision. Though she hates the Darushee, she’s more afraid of what will happen to her child. Her story intersects with Kaylan, a failed Darushee turned bounty hunter thanks to a sapient ship when all other Darushee go mad or die if separated from their clan.

Meanwhile, Noritarsha Daroch, one of the Darushee who is tasked with quelling the rebellion, is out hunting them and has an experience that makes him question the assessment of humans.

The story follows the two Darushee, Maia, and the human fugitive known as Control (Lynn) because she was the control in the hybridization experiments and so cannot enter the mind space. These four are forced into circumstances that put everything all of them have known to be true into question while providing a hair-raising action thriller with lives at risk and conflicting ideologies on all sides.

In case it wasn’t clear already, this is a strong, complex work of sociological science fiction with interesting characters, fascinating social structures, and intriguing conflicts. It is the beginning of a greater story, but still offers some resolutions to the internal crises while introducing new, and possibly better, stories to follow. Some of the ramifications exist only in discussion or internal thought so far, but they give a good sense of the social and cultural influences in play.

It begins like a traditional alien invasion, but rapidly becomes both more difficult and more fascinating with no simple lines. This is despite those characters who are determined to hold to simple answers without growth or learning, a position more understandable once the consequences are known. It’s an excellent example of the types of beings who seek, and are trouble by, power with a lot of meat for the reader to keep all these pieces dynamic and active. I very much enjoyed this read.

P.S. I received this title from the author in return for an honest review.

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