Savant by Nik Abnett
Published: Solaris (Oct 4, 2016)
Posted: Goodreads (Oct 14, 2016)
(4 / 5)
Science Fiction is the genre of taking chances. Rolling the dice, Savant by Nik Abnett explores what it means to be human from an entirely new perspective. The story revolves around a single deviation in an otherwise ordered existence… a single change that threatens to upend the planet’s safety.
The Earth’s Shield must be maintained at all costs. But when one of its protectors is distracted, does the center hold?
Tobe is a creature of habit. A highly respected Master at one of Earth’s Colleges, Tobe is admired by many for his contributions to pure reason and mathematics. Not only is he obsessed with problem solving, he’s also on the spectrum. Unable to deal with life’s subtleties or remember one moment from the next, Tobe’s limited world view is shattered one fateful morning during breakfast.
Tobe’s Assistant-Companion, the dutiful Metoo, watches Tobe’s decline into obsession with growing concern. Tobe, one of the rare Actives, unconsciously uses his synaptic energies to fuel the all-encompassing Shield protecting the world from alien attack. Given Tobe’s mental fragility, the slightest change in his mindset can (and does) have devastating effects on the planet’s security.
Where other Assistants have burned out, Metoo takes her job seriously and is extremely dedicated to Tobe’s peace of mind. This speaks strongly to Savant‘s greatest strength: the characters are extremely down-to-earth and likeable. Because the story revolves around a savant, Abnett is able to reflect and emphasize the traits of others through Tobe. Metoo’s kindness is genuine because her reaction to Tobe is genuinely moral. The reader can experience the difficulties of caring for someone like Tobe while reading a good science fiction story.
The world building is also very interesting. Relying on the novel’s fast pace and well placed reveals, the Earth of Savant starts off as a mystery to the reader but slowly gains definition as the story progresses. While some dedication to the text is required to see this come to fruition, I found the novel difficult to put down (finishing it in under 2 days). Savant is never bogged down with meaningless complexities. Excellent writing makes this book a page turner.
The alternate Earth in Savant places great value in strict routines, regimens, and systems. From the clothes people wear to the foods they consume, virtually everything has a synthetic alternative. Irrespective of the Draft system in place, society is broken into two distinct groups: those that attend Colleges and the Civilians on the outside. Those with a keen sense of mathematics and analytical reasoning live in squads and study as Students. Elevated positions such as Assistants and Companions exist to serve the Masters, often living with them.
Service is an entire organization dedicated to preserving the fragile minds of the Masters. Tasked with monitoring the wellbeing of those on a College’s campus, their Operators watch from behind the scenes in a unique way. Since the world in Savant is practically governed by mental prowess, Operators watch multicolor, aura-like wafers on display monitors. These colors form brainwave patterns of their targets. This alternative take on surveillance fits the society in the novel flawlessly.
Other scientific advances include: genetic blood tests to determine likelihood of being of a savant (presumably detecting mental disease), chip implants with mood adjustments, and a rule-based futuristic world bent on planetary safety and secrecy. It’s a world where being born a savant is actually desirable! Not all of these elements are germane to the events in the story, but they do provide the reader with lots of enjoyment.
He had a hundred, a thousand, hundred thousand ways to decipher numbers and decrypt mathematical symbols. Maths was his music and his linguistics, and the babbling of his brook.
Savant‘s pacing can make its conclusion feel rushed. There were a few things that were left unexplored (like why most people can’t live without brain chips). But it’s hard to fault the novel too much since the writing is so good. That fast pacing that glosses over some things does work in the novel’s favor, allowing the author to focus on the elements that matter.
Without giving too much of the story away, the character growth is like the progression of a caterpillar into a fine golden swallowtail. The novel functions as the chrysalis in which great development occurs. The concepts and characters were splendid.
If you’re looking for a fresh take on science fiction, give Savant a read. I can only hope that other authors see that they can use something other than heroes and antiheroes to tell their tales. Sometimes the best story is about a heartfelt journey, and Savant does this human journey very well. 4/5.
(This book was received from the publisher for a fair and honest review.)