Book review: Theft of Fire by Devon Eriksen

When I was young, science fiction was the genre of choice for many engineers and scientists. But the genre declined significantly in recent years. Part of the problem is the rise dystopian fiction. In the imagined future, we are no longer conquering space or developing new fantastic technologies, but rather, increasingly, battling the consequences of climate change or of some evil corporation. In some respect, science fiction is always about the present and present has become unimaginative, fearful and generally anxious.

To illustrate, let me quote a recent piece in the Atlantic:

The United States is experiencing an extreme teenage mental-health crisis. From 2009 to 2021, the share of American high-school students who say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent, according to a new CDC study. This is the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded.

Civilizations are not eternal, they have a life cycle. When young people grow increasingly depressed, when we are more eager to take down than to build up, we are facing a decline. On a per capita basis, most countries in the West are stagnating. Economists like Cowen and Gordon blame in part the relative lack of benefits due to the Internet and technological advancement in computers. But I am sure Roman intellectuals could have blamed the decline of their empire on the fact that late-stage innovations like the onager were not sufficiently impactful.

The covid era is a perfect illustration. Entire societies turned inward, locked up, shut down their industries, their entertainment. We did get an echo of science-fiction, but the dystopian kind. In communist China, we had the so-called big whites, a special police force wearing hazmat suits, enforcing lockdowns. Worldwide, politicians took the habit of wearing black masks. So the Empire from Star Wars was a tangible reality, but without much in the way of rebels. No Luke, no Lea came to be celebrated.

But culture is not a mere reflection of an era. In some sense, culture defines the era, it is a beast that is larger than any one of us. As much as you would like to think that politicians are in charge, they are strictly limited by their culture. Václav Havel made this point in The Power of the Powerless (1985): the ruler of a communist country has no more than a grocer to oppose the prevailing culture, and he may even have less power.

So how do we get back to a future-oriented culture? One where the challenges are met with courage. One where we fight our way through instead of turning inward and regressing?

Culture is all of us. Culture is what we do. It is what we talk about. And it is what we read.

Few books have the power to inspire readers quite like Devon Eriksen’s Theft of Fire. This work of science fiction takes us on a journey through the frozen edge of the solar system, where a hidden treasure lies waiting to be discovered. It is a tale of adventure, intrigue, and the indomitable spirit of humanity.

It is an imperfect, and even somewhat sad future. There are poor people, there are oppressed people. But it is world where you can hope. It is very much the path in our future where Elon Musk’s futuristic and optimistic vision came true. Yes, Elon Musk himself shaped this universe. Eriksen does not tell us that if ‘the man’ (Elon Musk) has his way, we will live forever in harmony. Quite the opposite. If you are intrigued by ChatGPT and Google Gemini, Eriksen has you covered, as well.

Here is a quote to illustrate Eriksen’s style:

In space, everyone can hear you scream. You vacsuit monitors your heartbeat, your blood pressure. It knows when you are injured. And it knows when to cry for help on the 100 MHz emergency band. And everyone is listening. Every suit radio. Every spacecraft. Every robot probe.

Theft of Fire offers a plausible and realistic universe. The characters, Marcus Warnoc and Miranda Foxgrove, are not mere archetypes; they are complex, flawed, and deeply human. Their struggle to trust one another and overcome their own demons is a powerful allegory for the modern human condition. There are class wars, between the very rich and the very poor, but it is not a Marxist story. Marcus might be poor and struggling, but he is never a victim. The rich people can be bad, but so can the poor people.
The world of Theft of Fire is one of contrasts: the cold, unforgiving vacuum of space and the warmth of human connection. It is a testament to the power of storytelling and the enduring appeal of the science fiction genre.

It may maybe telling to look at who published Eriksen’s book: it is a self-published book. As far as I can tell, one of Eriksen’s wives is in charge of marketing. She is the one who reached out to me and suggested this review. Maybe that’s how we change our destiny: from the bottom up. Just like in the novel.

More information: Eriksen’s home page.

Daniel Lemire, "Book review: Theft of Fire by Devon Eriksen," in Daniel Lemire's blog, February 24, 2024.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

3 thoughts on “Book review: Theft of Fire by Devon Eriksen”

  1. I’m definitely going to be reading this as I’ve been looking for books that show a more uplifting future. Not utopian but not dystopian. More things are better, future oriented as you put it.
    I don’t know if you’ve come across it but something like the series For all Mankind on Apple TV. I highly recommend that if you’ve not watched it.

  2. This was a terrible book. The characters are paper thin and ripped straight out of the TV show The Expanse, with a dash of loli-fetish thrown in for seasoning. The plot plods along, with a good 300 pages dedicated to bickering and increasingly pornographic tension between the male and female protagonists. I cannot in good faith recommend it, and I am writing this post to save any future souls who come across this post and think about reading this book from spending their hard earned “fucks” (as the author memorably puts it in an interview) on a book nobody should give “a fuck” about.

    If you are looking for optimistic books about the future I can recommend reading David Deutsch’s “The Beginning of Infinity” instead. And if you want to read great hard sci-fi pick up any book by Greg Egan, Vernor Vinge, or Greg Bear and get ready to have your head spin.

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