The small within the great – “Age of the Aura, Phase I: Champions of Power” by Samuel Odunsi Jr

Description by the author / blurb:

The Blessed Galaxy has no other name. After being gifted with the Auras—five great powerhouses of celestial creation—the title was a suitable fit. For millennia, the governing bodies have ruled their respective reaches of the Galaxy while harnessing the might of the Auras. But now they face the threat of a calamity, from an unlikely source, that could shake the lives of all.

Lowen Sars, a devout man of science, decides to take on the burden of saving the Galaxy’s people once he learns of the calamity. But he soon realizes that the role of a hero was a calling not meant for him, even with his sudden promotion. In his process of self-discovery, Lowen begins the fateful saga of not only the Blessed Galaxy, but also the kingdom in possession of the corrupt Aura.
samuelodunsijr

Review

The Auras are huge formations that radiate power. In the Blessed Galaxy five are dispersed among different peoples. The peoples derive energy for their different needs from them but also obtain certain gifts that border on the limits of the natural: longevity, physical prowess, foresight. With all their beneficial effects, the Auras remain a mystery. Their origin is unknown, as largely are their working mechanisms. The inhabitants of the Aorta Realm remember their Aura fell from heaven. The peoples with the Auras have become dependent on them. But they have become dependent on the unexplained. 

 This backfires when first is witnessed that the Auras’ power starts going rogue. The energy the Auras emanate is changing. On Aorta, the Aura seems to drive madness into the ruling dynasty. On Jordus, the capital planet of the Ludorian Imperium, a catastrophe takes place. The Aura bursts forth energy blasts that hurt, kill and split buildings apart. Ludorian Lowen Sars and his fellow physicists develop a theory: one of the Auras is growing weak and draws power from the other ones, thus triggering the uncontrolled discharges. The end of it all, so Lowen calculates, will be Balance Point, when all the other Auras break asunder, leaving the formerly enfeebled Aura thenceforth as the sole centre of power in the Blessed Galaxy.
Lowen has a plan to let a greater good emerge from the inevitability of the disaster. The greater good is nothing less than universal peace. 

 The first instalment of the “Age of the Aura“ follows Lowen’s team in its efforts to implement the decisive first step of their plan. At the same time, the events in the Royal Court on Aortia enter into the picture. The author focuses, in both story-lines, on few characters. This is an appropriate decision because with the large scale the tale about the Blessed Galaxy is spinning, the temptation would have been all too alluring to loose the story in detailed descriptions about the unknown worlds and the multitude of persons involved.
Still, the “Age of the Aura” is set in a new cosmos and the author is able to let the reader connect with the cosmic dimension of it. The reader feels he participates in History with a capital letter. Nevertheless, the evolution of the cosmos and its peoples is not recounted, its marvels, which must be infinite, are not approached; its characters, some shrewd and disturbing, are not drawn out in characters studies. The horizon the author delineates in this universe of endless possibilities is limited to few figures and scenes. Descriptions are inserted cautiously and only serve to facilitate the perspective on the limited story points. The central players in the novel are introduced with just few sentences, further knowledge about them will have to be gauged from their involvement in the developing plot. The world Odunsi Jr. shows is actually quite small, as small is the size of the novel.
Yet the cosmic dimension imparts the shape of true History even onto the small frame the author has chosen as a perspective on the critical events devolving in this world. Odunsi Jr. has reached the balance point, but a positive one. Right from the start of the novel, he establishes a precarious balance between the overarching greatness of a cosmic tale and the circumscribed perspective trough which the tale is shared with the reader. What is so marvellous about this story is that, for its greater part, the difficult balance is maintained. 

 There is, in general, nothing remarkable about the language. It is neither outstanding nor flat. At some moments its deliberateness can be seen and the effect created is peculiar. Since the grand scale behind this novel is not made visible by engrossing on the details of the history of its world, the author must rely all the more on small means to communicate a feeling for the depth of time and the vastness of places: a feeling for History.
Particularly in introductory paragraphs to the chapters, it appears the author withdraws from his presence within the scenes and comments them from the hindsight of historical reflection. Such pondering remoteness is signalled by changes of tense, when else the past tense is throughout the standard mode of narration.
Examples: “It was a rare day indeed for the Ludoran Imperium, one that would mark a change for the better or maybe for the worse [switch to conditional with “would”] … This rare day indeed would tell…. It [the Aura] will always be the dominating force [switch to future sense] … The truth of all this still stands but this is not where the story is [switch to “actual” present, the present of the narrator]. It is here on Jordus, the capital planet of the kingdom where it is so [switch made to the “historical” present, the present as it was present when the events, past to the narrator, took place].” In the continuing phrases, the narration sets into the standard past tense and keeps with it for whole chapter.
From the beginning of two other chapters: “At the moment, they were in a conference [conflagration of past tense with historical present indicator ‘at the moment’] … His condition … is rumored to occur in the eyes of newborn humans exposed too early to the natural glow of the Aura, but there has been no evidence yet that justifies the claim [could either be present perfect from the viewpoint of historical present or actual present, meaning, in the latter case, that even up unto the narrator’s time evidence has not been found].” – “Regardless of their deathly obliviousness, the Assembly remained unaware of Lowen’s covertly orchestrated plan at birthing a unified kingdom for those who would like to take part [sentence starts off with usual past tense], and the notion has left their minds altogether [turn to present perfect initiates historical present], but the ticking of the clock to Balance Point persists [rounding off the sentence in historical present]. The Ludoran people continue to live their lives normally [historical present again] … ”

 The narrator, it is clear, is recounting History and everything he is describing has already acquired the importance of world-changing happenings, the happenings that will become the material for memory and tradition and, in consequence, the study material of historians. By small means such as the one I pointed out, the depth dimension of historical, of cosmic gravity is added to the rapid, few, limited scenes. Odunsi Jr. shows that one can have a complex story without many details, a vast playground for different agents and yet a restricted character set, and a grand theme in the shape of a light e-book.
This is what I’d call balance point – it is marvellous the author found it and could stay on it.

 But this impressive achievement of the author cannot blind for the gaps in probability the story is fissured with. The plot hasn’t been thought out thoroughly. I’d like to make mention of two examples to clarify this assessment.
For one, Lowen and his team visit a planet that is still in the process of transformation for prospective colonisation. They want to reach the terraforming base, but due to the as yet dire weather conditions, they are forced to walk some fourteen miles before actually reaching the base. Strangely enough, however, when their associate wants to leave the base once they have reached it, he orders an aircraft to take him from there, because the sand storms have already calmed down – though no more than a few hours can have passed since Lowen and his team struggled through them. The question remains unanswered why the team didn’t wait the couple of hours in the first place instead of toiling through the raging weather and exposing themselves to threats for their security, and, as will be shown, even for their lives. Of course there is just one answer: the author has needed an excuse for putting his characters into danger. He takes the easy excuse and brushes aside story plausibility.
Secondly, there is the question of the shady morality of the said associate of the team. Despite the recent history of crime, corruption and warmongering of his people, Lowen’s team entrusts to him the care of finding an amiable compromise with the Aortians. They possess the very Aura that draws power from the other ones. Doctor Tobias Prime, an invaluable addition to the team, makes his contribution dependent on the exclusion of all violence in the execution of Lowen’s plan. He distrusts their associate, understandably, but still appears terribly naive to the reader in giving in to the associate’s suggestion to deal with the Aortians. Tobias doesn’t even demand safeguards to check with the negotiation process. Besides, the team gets to know the man who is to lead the negotiations on their part. His face is hidden by a mask, he lives in a sealed-off room kept by freezing temperature, he wears a strait-jacket and his ankles are shackled. He doesn’t say a single word; his stare is disquieting. Among themselves, the team members voice their concern, but still they accept the man as their envoy for peaceful dealings with the Aortians. How is the reader to believe that Lowen’s team, among them a convinced pacifist, would so easily agree to be represented by a person who smells of terrorism, and has been proposed as envoy by a people of terrorists? The reader, quite simply, cannot believe it.

 In these and other instances the author doesn’t bother with concerns of plausibility. But as a result the balance is thrown off its point. Historical reconstruction is only possible with real history lived through by people who have been acting on recognisable and understandable motives. Else it is not history that is recounted – else what is told is pulp fiction that does away with human logic in order to achieve a cheap mimicry of thrill and tension. Whenever this happens, therefore, even to say the balance is thrown off is too guarded an expression. It should better be said that the balance is violently wrenched from its hinges. Where before has been upheld the structure of the small within the grand, now the structure is shattered and even the remaining smallness of a crisp novel has been reduced to the pettiness of pulp fiction. 

 The first instalment of „Age of the Aura“ shows a significant disparity in quality. For its greater part, it is a fast-paced tale concentrating on few characters, but managing to surround them and everything they are involved in by that epic breadth of history the reader affectionate to large sci-fi schemes contemplates with joyful awe. But, in some parts, the novel is devalued by the plot construction suffering from breaches of plausibility. In sum, the grand shape of reconstructed History can only stand on shaky foundations.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

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