Title: Portal to Liberty: Enter Portal 1
Author: A.J. Elksnis
Publisher: MoshPit Publishing, 2021
A.J. Elksnis is a Ballarat author who is deeply interested in sustainability and this concern is vividly apparent in Portal to Liberty, his first novel, where humanity has left an Earth no longer able to sustain life due to environmental degradation. He also practises what he preaches, living off the grid using solar panels and batteries to power his home. He is a fan of popular culture and this is reflected in how he has chosen to tell this story.
The author has constructed an ambitious and compelling scenario including augmented humans created to perform particular functions, aliens sharing superior technology, time and space travel, and parallel universes amongst which are an ominous present-day Melbourne and a world ruled by a Blood Queen. The characters are thinly drawn, almost two dimensional, with a strong popular culture flavour. Reading Portal to Liberty was almost like watching a movie. Many of the characters come across as figures from a pop culture version of science fiction generally, with shades of the genres ecofiction or climate fiction (cli-fi). Scientific information works hand in hand with imagined worlds, action and characters (human and otherwise), to ground the narrative amid the fantastic and the gung ho.
The underlying premise balances a Utopian ideal in the Universal Community (UC), established after the Great Migration from Earth, against the military dictatorship of General Dennis Conroy. Conroy is the leader of those cast out of the UC for rejecting its brave new system of taxation of the rich to provide for all. With his private army and automated units (AMs, created to take on many tasks performed by humans, including military duties), he now rules the newly created Corporate Office of Government (COG) on Silica, the planet to which they were exiled. The battle between Conroy’s forces and those of the UC spans time and space and is filled with nonstop action and movement. Elksnis uses this conflict to introduce treatises on social justice and sustainability.
He also taps the familiar SF trope of what makes a human, human, as the augmented human Lana develops an identity beyond her programming and cloned origins under the tutelage of Professor Peter O’Conner, her creator, and his team of scientists. The cloned Lana’s personality is developed by the team feeding their own life experiences into her as she grows, and she is subjected to genetic changes ‘improving’ on her basic human form.
Professor O’Conner’s team are part of the UC forces at the forefront of the battle against Conroy, whose ambitions threaten not just the UC but numerous other worlds throughout time and space.
There is some unevenness in the quality of the writing and there were moments where I lost sense of where I was in the story as a whole due to the complexity and breakneck speed of the narrative, but as a fan of ecofiction and science fiction I kept reading, and as I did my reading became easier and I remained drawn in.
The basic theme, protection of our planet, is a timely and important one, and in using a pop culture, action-filled framework, Elksnis has found an imaginative way to explore this. Portal to Liberty is the first part of a series and, with a little extra attention to editing, I look forward to where he goes next.
Reviewed by: Rhonda Cotsell, December 2021
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group
Review copy supplied by the author