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C.J. Hall
Evolving Elizah: Initiatum
C.J. Hall, author

Adult; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Market)

Elizah (Liz) Goeff was born into a world much like the one we know today, but she doesn’t remember it. It’s all gone now, covered in ash after a series of natural disasters threw North American civilization into a death spiral. Now Liz’s world is the Green Grow 3, a lush space farm orbiting Earth designed to feed humanity until the planet can heal itself. The space farm was a brilliant plan that might have worked, if not for the terrorist group that calls itself the New Generation. They are intent on destroying the Green Grow dream, and Liz is intent on destroying them. They took everything that mattered to her – her home, her mother, and her older brother Jackson who has been missing for years. She won’t let them take the Green Grow 3 as well. Cut off from the Green Grow Executive Council and abandoned by their former Captain, Liz will do anything to help her friend and now-Captain, Seth, to keep the ship and its inhabitants safe. They are her people now. Or are they? As Liz fights to save the ship and humanity, she realizes that nothing is as it seems – not the New Generation, not her brother’s disappearance, and not the war she assumed Green Grow was winning. When New Generation spies are captured on the ship, they begin to reveal truths about Liz’s world and her family that she struggles to accept. As her illusions unravel, this fierce young woman must decide – who should she fight for now, and to what end? And is it really possible that she alone has the power to end to the conflict that has defined her entire life?
This unsettling sci-fi debut follows the crew of a space farm as they root out traitors from an enemy organization. Liz Goeff is a shuttle pilot aboard the Green Grow 3, a floating farm that provides food for those on Earth, now an ashy wasteland. The Green Grow team faces opposition from the New Generation, an ecoterrorist group that attacks food stores, steals produce, and slaughters survivors on the ground. Liz’s hatred of the New Generation is personal: her brother was an early recruit who disappeared after the organization descended into radicalism. When Liz makes the reckless but altruistic decision to bring 52 refugees onboard, she earns the ire of her superiors and must fight to prove that every life is worth saving. Then the ship is thrown off course and sent speeding away from Earth. The morality of the council and crew shifts, and Liz begins questioning Green Grow’s apparent complicity in the suffering below.

The novel is fast-moving, jumping from one crisis to the next, but it’s most successful when it slows down, and focuses on building suspense around the identity of the onboard traitors. There are many competing plotlines: the identities of “Liz’s Fifty-Two”; her relationship with Seth, the ship’s captain; her lifelong search for her brother; and the insubordination of the rest of the Green Grow executive council. Because there is so much going on, not every story line gets the attention it needs. For example, the 52 refugee passengers become a side plot after the first half of the book.

But Hall has a knack for worldbuilding: the destruction on Earth is detailed; the purpose of Green Grow (to provide food for those in need) is well-defined; and the futuristic technology introduced, including a teleportation device and an implanted chip that illuminates a hidden tattoo, helps develop a rich atmosphere. There is more than enough material for a sequel, and a solid foundation upon which to build. Readers will be drawn in by this suspenseful sci-fi story and its moral quandaries.

Takeaway: This unsettling sci-fi novel is great for fans of mystery, suspense, and space travel.

Great for fans of: Iain M. Banks’s Consider Phlebas, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: B+