One of the great powers of science fiction is that, by using its intrinsic speculative qualities, an author can create worlds for the sole purpose of getting his or her point across. Hum, for example, is set on a distant planet. Its dominant bi-pedal species is, to all intents and purposes, human. Its universal themes transcend history – when and where the book is set is, on the whole, irrelevant.
The background to the plot sounds complex, spanning generations of people on the planet, but whittled down to the core it’s essentially a story of slavery. Following a natural disaster, 90 per cent of the people on the planet are left blind. The remaining sighted people take this opportunity to exploit the obvious weaknesses of the blind folk and enslave them, putting them to work in mines to keep the sighted masters rich and comfortable. After years of slavery, the slaves learn how to overcome their disadvantage and overwhelm the masters, breaking free from their bonds. An uneasy peace based on total segregation follows, though the masters continue to resent their loss.
But all this is just the background. The main thrust of the story begins when a sighted master finds himself stuck amongst the ex-slaves. Unfortunately he’s the brother of the leader of the local group of masters who are looking to bring back the old order, though the two brothers could hardly be more different. One brother wants peace and equality with the ex-slaves, the other wants war.
For much of the book, I failed to release myself from the impression that the plot and back story were only there to help Marcano and Lenoci voice their thoughts on slavery. However, by the time you get to the end, and the book’s pacing becomes less pedestrian and starts to hit a better rhythm, I finally found myself giving in to the story and the characters. While they spend most of the story following archetypical character traits, they slip their shackles for a well-executed finale.
The illustration is stylistic, which helps give it an other-worldly edge. But while superbly implemented in places, it looks a little tired and humdrum in others.
This all adds weight to my central problem with the book – that it’s simply ended up too long. It’s an interesting enough read, especially if you’re a particular fan of science fiction that explores the human condition by isolating certain elements and tinkering with them to see what happens. The only downside is that sometimes, as happens with this book, the end result can end up lacking in depth, colour and soul.