Those Left Behind: 'All of Us Go, or None of Us Go'

Cover of N.C. Scrimgeour's science fiction novel Those Left Behind, Book One of the Waystations Trilogy, which depicts a spaceship with jets firing and a sun's light forming a corona around a planet. The book was entered into the second Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC)

N.C. Scrimgeour's Those Left Behind did extremely well in the second Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), emerging as one of the seven finalists from a field of over two hundred novels.

The book begins as a tale of humans desperate to flee their overpopulated, desiccated and dying planet New Pallas, sending a small crew of cybernetically enhanced humans called Exodans and a few humans with vital skills through an ancient and technologically enigmatic wormhole to a distant universe. Little is known about their destination, so it is a blind gamble that whatever lies at the other end can't be worse than starvation and societal collapse.

Captain Alvera Renata has emerged to lead the Exodans after a successful mutiny against her predecessor Ojara, a Machiavellian woman who regards humans as backward "sletes" unworthy of being saved. She only cares about the elite Exodans.

When the humans make the spaceflight through the wormhole, which is called a waystation, this puts them under so much strain that six crew members are dead on arrival. At this point Those Left Behind feels like a compelling first contact novel where Alvera, her crew and the powerful AI sharing her brain must find a way to fulfill her promise to the teeming billions of her homeworld, "All of us go or none of us go."

Instead, she has brought them to an enormous multi-species galaxy on the knife's edge of war after thousands of years, leaving the plight of New Pallas less a concern than a curiosity to the locals. And it doesn't help that their arrival causes all waystations to begin pulsing the same signal.

One of my favorite passages in the book is when her people's non-centrality dawns on Alvera:

Their hopes of stumbling upon a rich, empty galaxy with resources to spare and new worlds to pick from had disappeared with as little trace as a dream come morning. The new beginning they had been looking for was the middle of someone else's story. They didn't belong here.

A savage twist leaves Alvera and two other crew members as the last hope of New Pallas.

At this point the novel broadens its scope with each chapter and becomes a full-on space opera, introducing additional protagonists from this end of the worm who are destined to play important roles in the war. One welcome surprise is that we get a rootable protagonist on both sides. The Idran-Var are an enemy in the same sense of the word as Klingons, who never met a generation of Starfleet they couldn't upstage.

Two of the protagonists are aliens -- a radiation-absorbing siolean named Niole and a thick-exoskeletoned dachryn named Rivus. Niole's one of those "I vant to be left alone" characters you know will never ever get that wish -- and woe be unto those who deny it. She's the second-best protagonist behind Alvera.

Scrimgeour's a talented writer who has created a sumptuously lived-in setting, chock full o' planets and characters who have more to do than just serve plot.

With five lead characters having no involvement with each other for most of the book, it became difficult at times to avoid losing the thread of the story. Sometimes a protagonist shift left me unable to get my bearings. I had to just roll with it and hope that understanding would come.

Because the scope of Those Left Behind is enormous, it was clear by the last third that this novel was primarily setting up the rest of the series instead of rising to a big finish. That structure helped sell me on the next book but may have knocked its overall score in SPSFC. Contest judges evaluate each novel on its own merits and eligible books must be a series starter or standalone.

The Waystations Trilogy continues with Those Once Forgotten and ends with Those Who Resist. There's also a prequel to the trilogy, The Exodus Betrayal.

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