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The first book in the Plane series, Apex Five, begins with a catastrophic storm hellbent on ending all life on the Plane. Many escape into the Void, leaving all who remain to perish. Now 12,000 years later, civilization is once again thriving on the Plane, but not without rivaling nations, political tensions, and religious persecution. The Tabiran government is the ruling body of the Plane, and they have been working for years to eradicate religious belief in the Zaam and the culture surrounding the megaliths found in each nation of Tabira, Lir, and Garo. The origins of these megaliths are forgotten and transformed into myth.
During a diplomatic mission from neighboring Lir, First Lasha Nasin meets with Tibira’s leader Mak Eta when the accomplice of the recent usurper is caught. That night Nasin finds the prisoner to be a young boy named Rohem, who never sleeps and only needs sunlight as sustenance. Around this time, Mak Eta’s sister Vata and her two children Inad and Ara, are journeying to the primitive colony Ayam intending to dissuade the Ayam people of their religious beliefs. Almost two decades pass, and the unrest between nations under the guise of partnership with Tabira has come to a breaking point. Efforts towards suppressing religion have seen technological and scientific advancement soar in Tabira. In Ayam, a deadly curse reigns that cause all inflicted to transform into monstrous creatures each night. To prevent war, Tabira sends a group from Lir and Garo that includes Rohem and Avithia, to find a solution to the curse. Rohem has felt an increasing pull towards the megaliths, and while in Ayam, he finds answers about himself and the Plane that will change the world forever.
Apex Five manages to pack a lot of big ideas into a small package. At first, the worldbuilding is very dense, but the story flows a lot smoother once the groundwork is there. Fans of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness will likely enjoy Apex Five because the story also takes place in a world of stark political and cultural differences where resulting tensions are reaching a high point. Another similarity with Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness is Avithia, who fluctuates between male and female on a bi-weekly basis. Katz manages to engage in the tradition of science fiction to explore divergences from what is considered normal. Avithia is a gender-fluid character judged by almost everyone on the Plane except a few close loved ones. Another character faces tragedy and persecution for having a sexual orientation that is illegal in their society. Oria balances a line trying to bridge the worlds of religion and science, hoping to better understand both.
Katz creates a lot of compelling and multilayered characters in a relatively short amount of time. With over a dozen different perspectives, Katz attempts the impossible task of fleshing out everyone equally. Fortunately, Apex Five is only the first book, and the story is far from over.
Sara Katz builds a foundation for a complex science fiction world in Apex Five and invites readers to connect with many characters in what will likely be an epic journey. There is something else about this book, Katz manages to touch on all-too-human themes of science versus religion, sexual orientation, and a possible messiah figure that just might be able to save the evolution of humankind. All in all, it’s no wonder Apex Five won 1st in Category in the CIBA 2018 CYGNUS Awards for Science Fiction!