Open Your Eyes
Apex Press, 2009
Open Your Eyes is perhaps one of the densest 152 page novellas I have ever read. It’s not that the language is difficult but rather the near constant barrage surrealistic imagery never slackened and so varied from character to character that keeping up was, at times, difficult; though not without rewards. It could be argued that for all its popularity the Space Opera no matter how imaginative or original frequently covers familiar, even comforting, elements from plot devices, to characters, to worlds. Open Your Eyes, is not too different in that. The novel has sentient ships, a ragtag space crew, and a mysterious alien threat but executes them in such a way that they feel like something else entirely.
Open Your Eyes opens up with a woman, floating in a spaceship, having sex with a supernova. The women, Ekia, later joins the crew of Itsasu’s ship now pregnant with who-knows-what in her stomach. Itsasu, floats in a liquid jelly controlling all aspects of the ship or at least whatever the sentient ship’s “heart” lets her control. On the crew we have Mari, a cyborg woman whose face’s metal half contains a mechanical butterfly that frequently serves as a measure of her mood; we have Hodii who at first glance is the most normal of the bunch at least until we find out that he houses the mind/souls of two dead siblings in his head; last you have Hodii’s psychopathic giant granite skinned brother who is taciturn one moment and a murderous madman the next. Thrown into the mix is what I can only guess is a sentient language that turns its hosts’ brains to mush while always seeking to propagate itself.
According to Jessup’s webpage the names of everything, from characters to ships, is based of Basque Mythology (http://pauljessup.com/wordpress/2009/04/the-universe-of-open-your-eyes/). The Basques, an ethnic group primarily from the areas of Navarre and Aragon in Spain (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_people) are isolated enough that their mythology has never really been used in fiction; or at least any fiction that I’ve read. As such it gives things a very alien, very unknown feel at the same time I found it occasionally difficult grasp the meaning behind Jessup’s choice of words. While frequently meaning could be derived from context I often found that my understanding was disappointingly inadequate. Two terms in particular had this effect on me egia and mozorro (I may be spelling that second one incorrectly). The first relates to a part of the ship while the second is related to the ship’s AI though, despite my efforts, I could never quite figure out what exactly they were.
Etymological difficulties aside Jessup’s prose is, for all its vivid highly imaginative imagery, surprisingly sparse. At the same time he manages to paint extraordinarily vivid imagery with surprisingly few words. This is evident as early as the very first chapter where you get passages like this:
Her lover was a supernova. And her womb—it spun with the light of stars. She felt black holes open up inside of her, intense gravitational weight. She felt her mind expand, and then a stillness as the blue light glowed and everything around her was awash in a sea of colors.
It is a rather short paragraph but it also manages to evoke a rather vivid image. While I think the rest of the novel is certainly now slouch it is the tightly focused opening and finale that are the at the apex of the novel’s prose.
Open Your Eyes is a delightfully strange and highly original book. Jessup is mentioned in marketing materials as being a writer of “weird fiction” and that stuck in my mind as I was reading this novella. The alien feeling of the world and its technology, the horrific sentient language disease and a strong sense of the unnatural and the unknown that permeates the novel all evoke, to me at least, the style and atmosphere of weird fiction. While I frequently found the novel’s surrealistic imagery made for a somewhat difficult read I still found it made for an impressively compelling addition to the Space Opera genre. In fact I would go so far to say that it is the most original Space Opera I’ve ever read. Whether or not other readers will take to Open Your Eyes is a more difficult question to answer. It is, as the blurb from Jay Lake points out “surrealistic space opera in the tradition of New Wave experimentalism” and it certainly doesn’t lean on much hard science instead focusing on more fantastic imagery. I certainly found it an engaging read, though I would have loved to have seen it fleshed out into a more complete novel with a more developed plot. The ending felt a bit incomplete as a result and the book floats in some sort of no-mans land between novel and novella. Regardless it is still worth a look by fans of space opera, even more-so since the Open Your Eyes will be available as a free download for the rest of this month courtesy of the fine folks at Apex Publications. Anyway, if your in the mood for something a bit different or have a minute or two to sample something new head on over to the Apex page for the book and give it a try.
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