A “MacGuffin,” as described by Alfred Hitchcock, is an object or device that drives the plot forward in a work of fiction. In science fiction and fantasy, this object often has to be brought from point one location to another, whether it’s a Horcrux, the One Ring, or the Death Star plans.
Relics of Andromeda (Gold Dragon Books), Jonathan Michael Erickson’s first installment in a planned sci-fi trilogy called “Songs of Ancients,” adds a twist to this trope by ascribing a deep mythology to the novel’s MacGuffin. In this world, high-tech alien relics that long ago destroyed a civilization and sent humanity back to the Dark Ages will occasionally call out to people deemed worthy.
Anka, the novel’s protagonist, is chosen to protect one such relic on its journey to the last remaining tech-savvy city. She brings along her two closest friends, Trevor and Tamreh, and although the three set out on the familiar hero’s quest to deliver the MacGuffin, they are quickly outmatched by wild animals, and with Trevor’s life hanging in the balance, are forced to seek medical attention. From there, the quest is amended, with the party heading directly to the city.
When the characters arrive in the city of Ankharra, Erickson quickly demonstrates his world-building skills. The significance of the group’s arrival in the city is emphasized by nearly everyone they speak to, and it affords them the ability to be around all sorts of important figures, up to and including the Prime Minister.
While the rest of the world appears to lay in ruin due to humanity’s hubris in thinking they could conquer alien technology, Ankharra thrives, and is full of exciting new tech. One example is Jasper, a humanoid robot whose gender identity is undefined, leading to an illuminating discussion about gender outside of the male/female binary. Another is the lightstream, which allows for light-speed travel; Erickson’s explanation of this phenomenon feels more grounded and less fantastical than light-speed travel in other sci-fi.
In fact, this seems to be a trend in Relics of Andromeda: Erickson is telling a story that follows the traditional “hero’s journey” structure, with a grand adventure, a call to action, and helpful (if sometimes helpless) sidekicks.
However, what sets this novel apart from similar entries in the genre are its hard sci-fi elements, particularly when it comes to technology. None of the technology described exists outside of the realm of possibility. Much of it is updated tech evolved half a century from modern innovations.
The juxtaposition of low-tech treks through hostile landscapes in a world reduced practically to rubble against flashy futuristic wizardry that puts our computers (and robots, and prosthetics, and travel) to shame is exciting, as the reader uncovers all that is hidden in Ankharra along with the characters.
It was a joy to go along with Anka, Trevor, and Tamreh on this adventure, and I look forward to reading the next installment in “Songs of Ancients.”
Relics of Andromeda is now available for purchase.
Jonathan Michael Erickson is a writer based in Portland, Oregon. He studied English Literature at UC Berkeley and received his PhD in depth psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute, where his research focused on neuroscience and imagination. When he’s not writing science fiction, Jonathan is a graduate school instructor, a life coach, a nature enthusiast, an animal lover, and has been known to take the stage as a comedy improviser.
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