The First Olympians by Graeme Falco
(Independently published, 2022)
Reviewed by John Dodd
Gordon is a nine-year-old who has just begun to find his way in the underground mining colony. As he comes of age, he’s assigned a position in the workforce, only to find that the robotic overseers of his world are looking for his mother for crimes against the state.
And this is just the beginning.
Older and wiser by far, having lived under the yoke of the oppressive robots all her life, Dalrene has been building towards a revolution with her husband Mickey. The time is now, the place is here. Except the place isn’t what they thought it once was, as Gordon finds when his first act in the revolution finds him isolated from everyone else, in a place that was thought to only exist in myth and legend.
Upon the surface, Alessandra chafes under the corporate restrictions of her father and the corporation that he runs: mining precious minerals from deep within Mars. Till one day, when in the course of her corporate duties, she finds Gordon, who describes himself as nine, when clearly he’s closer to nineteen, and the truth of his existence becomes clear.
He was born on Mars, a slave, born of slaves, who never knew anything of the world above them and had nothing to look forwards to, who built an entire culture under the repressive state of the robotic overlords who had originally governed them. Alessandra realises that her father knew about the slaves and had done nothing to stop the situation, even though the use of robots had long since progressed beyond the use of slaves. She resolves to help Gordon find his place in the universe.
Meanwhile, Dalrene’s revolution gathers pace, and while the robots are prepared to kill every one of them, better to die in the hope of being one day free, than be forever subjugated. Following the advice of his family, Gordon seeks out the First Olympians, those who founded the Martian Mines and drew down the rules that they have lived under for so long.
The First Olympians is a story of the yearning of hope against a backdrop of corporate malfeasance and the unapologetic nature of those in power when they are found to have done something wrong. In equal parts Total Recall and Starchaser, the Legend of Orin, it’s a grim tale of the price that has to be paid for freedom to be available for all and a worthwhile caution against those who seek to serve their people, particularly when they succeed in that endeavour.
The world is bleak and unremitting, the undercity is very much the inside of a factory, and the nature of the robots is cold and logical, without any form of three laws protection built into their programming. They exist as enforcers and executioners and it’s difficult to see how most of the populace have lived as long as they have, as the robots kill a number of characters within the story and without reasonable compunction. I know that the deaths are there to illustrate the cold and unfeeling nature of the robots, but given the number of deaths that occur in a relatively short time, it’s hard to believe that the workforce wouldn’t have rebelled sooner, or needed replacing with new blood from the worlds above. On the other hand, Alessandra is every bit the equal of anything in her world, and navigates through things with the ease of someone born to high power and wealth, which makes her an odd choice for Gordon’s guide—almost as if a rich person were taking pity on a poor person and showing them how easy things can be when you have that power.
While the stories of Gordon and Dalrene are connected, the things that they were doing weren’t connected until the very end when everything was gathered together in short order, making it feel like two different stories that happened to exist on the same pages.
I liked the premise and telling of The First Olympians, but I’m not sure that I’d want to return to find what happened afterwards.