Gliding With Black Swans by S B Charles

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Gliding With Black Swans by S B Charles

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Future speculative novel in which Britain (now the UIA) is an atheist, rationalist society while the rest of the world retains religion. When a UIA citizen publicly espouses religion, they are deported - expaled - to the religious zones, known as the BTP or Beyond The Pale. But what happens when you want to get someone back from the BTP? A rollercoaster of a thriller, that's what. S B Charles popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 333 Date: August 2016
Publisher: CreateSpace
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1535021005

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We're a century or so into the future and Britain is now known as the UIA. It has become a rational, atheist country and has dealt with many of the pressing concerns that you and I are thinking about today - population growth, climate change, resource distribution. People lead ordered, prosperous lives, even if they are somewhat controlled. Religion is not banned outright but must be practised in the privacy of home. Public worship and proselytising are outlawed. Outside the borders of the UIA, religion is still a feature of life. This also means that sectarian conflict, overpopulation, hunger, and environmental degradation are rife. The citizens of the UIA watch these horrors via drone footage.

But what happens when a UIA citizen won't renounce public faith? They are expaled - deported, in so many words, to the religious zones, which are collectively known as the BTP: Beyond The Pale.

Gliding with Black Swans follows Bill, a UIA government scientist and his son Nat. The book opens with the expaling of Bill's wife Maggie, a committed Christian who felt her faith should not be private. Years later, Bill's son Nat gets engaged to the love of his life only to find that Sam too has religious convictions. She and her family are also expaled. But Nat believes that Sam could be persuaded otherwise and enlists the help of Bill and his girlfriend to stage a rescue incursion into the BTP. Nat faces a perilous journey to find Sam - will he? And will she want to come home if he does?

Oh! I really enjoyed this read. Charles spends quite a bit of time setting up his premise. While this means that the action takes a while to get going, it does give us quite a clear idea of the two sides of the world as it comes to be. Life in the UIA is prosperous but the citizens are asked to live in a rather authoritarian regime. There's a one-child policy, for instance. There is enforced abortion for foetuses with genetic problems. There is euthanasia. Voting is restricted to the select few. And we already know about the religious restrictions. On the other hand, life in the BTP is tough. What use are civil freedoms when food is short, war is all around you, and Christian priests are still busy with sexual abuse?

When Nat begins his journey across the BTP to find Sam, the action hots up. I won't say too much about for fear of spoiling, but the second half of the story is quite the page-turner and I genuinely wasn't sure what would happen.

Gliding with Black Swans (clever title!) gives pause for thought about religion and rationalism, sectarian strife, the availability of knowledge to all and the use of propaganda, all tied into the overriding theme of how to achieve global and environmental sustainability. There's a pretty good thriller inside it, too, making for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Bookinterviews.jpg S B Charles was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

You can read more about S B Charles here.

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Magda said:

I've kindle borrowed this on your recommendation and 9% in I'm really torn between the fascinating premise and the plodding writing (style? lack of style?), at least in the beginning that tries very hard to avoid the info dump - and succeeds but at the cost of clumsy, plodding exposition that suggests the readers are semi-literate 13 year olds.

I'm starting to wonder if the premise/world building is interesting enough to persevere with the book.

BTW a similar scenario is explored in Ken MacLeod's Night Sessions with considerably more grace.