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Braking Day cover

Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji

(Jo Fletcher Books, 2022)

Reviewed by Phil Nicholls

Scottish author Adam Oyebanji makes a strong impression with his debut novel. Midshipman Ravi MacLeod is training to be an officer aboard the colony ship Archimedes. The voyage to Destination World, Tau Ceti, has taken five generations and Braking Day is approaching. This is the day when the Archimedes, along with her companion vessels Bohr and Chandrasekhar, will begin deceleration as a prelude to orbiting their intended colony planet.

The detailed setting aboard Ravi’s ship is fascinating. The Archimedes has eight habitation rings, rotating in opposing pairs. However, the seventh, Ghana, is showing wear from the long journey and the eighth, Hungary, is a burnt-out wreck. While both rings appear in the plot, Oyebanji does not feel the need to provide the full backstory for their history. Instead, a few snippets of detail are scattered through the book and the setting feels so much more real for Oyebanji’s light touch.

As for the plot, Midshipman MacLeod quickly makes an “impossible” discovery, and the mystery begins. MacLeod slowly pieces together a conspiracy theory that questions the foundation of the whole colonization enterprise. In this quest he is ably assisted by Boz, his cousin who embodies the traditional MacLeod family career of criminal activity and general rebellion.

Boz’s speciality is computer programming. Everyone on Archimedes has neural implants, which Oyebanji leverages into transforming the cyberpunk hacker trope into a psionic ability as they compose and send code with their minds. Braking Day thus cleverly weaves cyberpunk themes into a hard SF setting. While Ravi is the focus character, Boz is the charming rogue sidekick with all the best lines.

Reviewing a conspiracy theory plot is tricky because I do not want to spoil the mystery. A faction aboard the Archimedes rejects the principle of braking day and wants the ship to sail on for ever. Ravi stumbles across this plot, which leads him to take increasing risks for what he believes to be the best interest of the ship. I was not always convinced of the wisdom of all of Ravi’s actions, as the alternate explanations seemed so believable. I suspect that doubting the reliability of the characters is part of the appeal for this style of mystery.

Yet, Oyebanji holds his nerve and delivers a satisfying conclusion. The action builds through the book, and I even skimmed ahead at one point as I could not believe what had just happened. By the end of the book, the truth emerges and our heroes are changed.

As if the setting of the Archimedes or the presentation of psionic computer programmers was not enough, Oyebanji also deserves credit for his creative use of language. He writes with a wonderfully whimsical style, illustrated by this highlight when it was suggested Ravi might like to write a letter: “…fingers were perfectly okay for punching keyboards. Wrapping them around thin sticks of ink in order to draw words was a different vat of protein altogether.”

Special mention should be made of his creative use of profanities in the book. Oyebanji has created a vocabulary of swearing linked to the culture of the Archimedes. Thus, he uses “Archie’s hooks” and “honest-to-Archie” among other phrases, where a shortened version of the ship’s name replaces “god” in these sometimes archaic sayings. Likewise, the burnt-out Hungary ring substitutes for hell. When the MacLeods travel to another ship, the pattern is repeated with different ship-specific terms. Aboard the Archimedes the word “sarding” replaces the f-word, conjugated as both a noun and a verb according to need. Again, a different ship uses a different neologism. These substitutions heighten the realism of the setting and make the book such a lively read.

Braking Day is an accomplished debut. The plot creaks in places like Ghana’s ageing engineering, but the creative language and inventive setting reward the reader.

Review from BSFA Review 17 - Download your copy here.


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