Book Review: “Beacon 23” (Hugh Howey)

beacon 23I usually focus on reviewing books for YA and younger audiences on the blog, but today I decided to share my thoughts on Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey. It’s a book for adult readers, but I think younger readers would have a lot of fun with it. The voice is irresistible and it’s both funny and sad. In some ways it’s a cross between Andy Weir’s The Martian and David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Beacon 23 tells the story of a man whose job it is to stand sentry in what is effectively an interstellar lighthouse, making sure passing ships don’t crash into nearby asteroids. The main character’s name is never given, and the story is told in the first person so it could almost be anyone’s story. It’s very easy to relate to the narrator who is ex-military and living out his retirement all alone in the beacon with only his thoughts and the odd (often wry and hilarious) communications with NASA to keep him company. What I tend to like about Howey’s writing – and this book is no exception – is that, despite incorporating a fair amount of hard sci-fi tech stuff, his stories really are about people: what makes us tick, the nature of our flaws, and hopes for our future. I prefer my sci-fi to focus on the characters than on the technology, although without the tech, it wouldn’t be sci-fi, would it?

The one quibble I have with this book is the ending. I felt it was a little abrupt, and dramatically large-scale in a way that perhaps didn’t best suit the rest of the narrative, or at least the build-up wasn’t sufficient for me to engage with the ending as much as I would have liked to. It seemed kind of quick and convenient (in the sense of a quick way to end the book; very inconvenient for many of the characters!) and I’m not sure that the characters really learned all that they could have about the serious choices before them.

Nevertheless, I’d highly recommend the book. The character’s voice is wonderful, the situations unusual but relatable, and it’s a fast read so if you’re looking for an end-of-summer beach day book, this may be a good one for you.