Let me build you a world and then tear it down: Crescent Earth, by Ilia Epifanov
By Adam Sell
The Bot Book Review is an occasional series of short reviews of robot-themed books as written by HUMAN team members.
Before the MCU really got going, before Amazon was greenlighting series like The Boys, and before Ryan Reynolds almost single-handedly made Deadpool one of the most popular characters in crime fighting despite an R rating, there was Hancock.
I remember going to the movie theater with some friends of mine late in college to see this Will Smith-fronted movie about a superhero that everybody hated and the PR rep that was going to save the superhero’s career—as well as his own—by rehabilitating his image. It’s a great premise, and it felt like a spiritual successor to Thank You For Smoking, which I thoroughly enjoyed when I’d seen it a few years later.
And while Hancock does an excellent job setting up the world in which the titular character is resented and reviled by the people he ostensibly serves, it didn’t quite deliver on the promise of the first half of the movie, instead devolving into a bizarre anti-love story between the superhero and the PR guy’s wife.
It’s that “the world-building and first half was excellent, but the second half left me bewildered” energy that I thought of when I finished Crescent Earth by Ilia Epifanov. At some point around the midpoint of the book, the plot direction took a hard turn in a direction I couldn’t have anticipated and that I found confusing.
The book takes place in a future in which humanoid and humanistic androids participate in society, not as a servant class as is the case in many similar settings, but as relative equals for attention and affection. In typical capitalist fashion, a handful of robotics moguls have emerged, and our eventual protagonist is the scion of one of these moguls.
Our hero lives what might be the average life of a wealthy-beyond-wealthy teenager, developing an expertise not only in using skateboards, but in repairing them for friends and family as well. It’s immediately after a skateboard repair session between our hero and his soon-to-be-boyfriend that an android stranger arrives and kills our hero’s father, the first such android-on-human murder on record.
Sidenote: when I came to be aware of this book through the author’s sharing on Reddit, I did not know it had a queer angle to it. I appreciate Epifanov’s effort to make the interactions and romance between the two characters incidental and unworthy of special note: it helped set the book in a world in which orientation was irrelevant.
The android in question is banished to the moon for hard labor in perpetuity, and after some brief, brusque arguments, our hero and his now-boyfriend accept jobs on the moon as well, but with competing agendas: one is there to start a new life away from the limelight of the crime, while the other is hoping to corner the android for further interrogation.
One of the other android moguls is then involved in a dramatic crash of the shuttle that ferries passengers from the earth to the moon and back, setting into motion the second half of the book…the part that had me turning pages rapidly but out of confusion more than momentum. I’m loath to give away the major reveal that forms the mechanism for the final 150 pages or so of the book, but I will say it reminded me of when I walked out of the theater after having seen the fourth installment of Indiana Jones years ago.
It’s feeling like a relatively common criticism of mine for books that I pick up: the world-building is excellent and I’m absolutely here for it, but something about the plot independent of the world-building just doesn’t really do it for me. And I understand that - developing a whole new world, one that resembles ours and is equally plausible, but which definitively differs from ours…that’s not a small feat. Nor is assembling a plot that keeps moving forward in a relatively linear but not overly predictable fashion. I can’t entirely fault books that don’t pull off both in my eyes for that reason - I’m very stingy with my five-star ratings, both in this project and on Goodreads, where all of my reading is tracked.
I’m casually intrigued by where Epifanov will go with his writing - I’m to believe Crescent Earth was intended to be the first in a series, and I’m interested in giving the second book a try as well. I do hope that now that a key element has been introduced, the story takes fewer massive shifts, but I was along for the ride the first time, so I’ll buckle up for round two as well.
By Ilia Epifanov
Bot Book Review Rating: 3/5 stars