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Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

Hold Back the Stars

by Katie Khan

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A lot of grammatical errors ( )
  EmpressReece | Mar 9, 2018 |
Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan is a near-future science fiction love story. When I picked it up, I had misremembered it being YA, but it's not. (The characters are in their late 20s.) The social world building is the most interesting aspect of this book, despite a few hiccups, and while the science was more or less OK for the most part, the author did hang some crucial plot points on some rubbish physics, which I will be ranting more about below.

This book has two timelines, the floating in space with ninety minutes of air left timeline and various flashbacks showing us how the characters got together as a couple and, to a lesser extent, how they ended up floating in space. The two timelines worked, but I think the linking and integration of the past storyline could have been more clever. It was fine as it was, but the flashbacks were all quite discrete for all that they were chronologically ordered. That aspect was mostly enjoyable but didn't exactly impress me. Also, most of the story focussed on the love story and I'm not completely convinced they were a perfect match so it was a bit meh.

What was interesting was the social aspect of the world building (for the physics aspect, see rant below). In this near future world, the EU has expanded to include large swathes of the world, notably not China, not sure about the rest of East Asia, and not the former US. (Bafflingly, Australia was welcomed into the system after Russia, which seems like a strangely out of touch take on the matter, from the perspective gained by living in the EU.) Now called Europia (Europe + utopia, sigh), they are aggressively anti-nationalism and pro-individualism and seem to be very socialist, although this isn't discussed in the story, it's just the only thing that makes sense. Their solution to nationalism is to have everyone on Rotation, moving to completely different parts of Europia every two years and encouraging them to learn lots of languages to be able to communicate with each other well. That part I found very interesting, if slightly dystopian when it mentioned a seven year old living on Rotation away from his parents (I was assuming children moved with their parents until a sensible age, which wouldn't have undermined the system). Of the two main characters, one comes from a fiercely pro-Rotation family and the other didn't enter Rotation until she was 18, which sets up a lot of interesting conflict between them.

The more pertinent and contrived conflict, however, comes from our main couple vs Europia's Couples Rule, which states that people can't settle down and have kids until 35 (because fertility problems have been solved). I thought Rotation was a really interesting idea, but the Couples Rule was taking things a bit bafflingly far, in a "How did society really thing this was a good idea?" way. (They should have just stuck to having parenting exams, in my opinion.) The main characters obviously want to challenge the rule and be together, but there's a lot of weird overreactions that aren't really fully addressed.

So the physics rant. For reasons unexplained, a shockingly dense asteroid field has settled in near-Earth orbit, which is stopping people from leaving Earth (by destroying stuff in space — miraculously not any communications satellites apparently because the future internet is doing quite well). Also there are frequent meteor showers, of the size to burn up in the atmosphere, which apparently terrifies people in places that have devolved to uncivilisation (like the former US). I don't see why shooting stars are so terrifying, but on the other hand it's not like the US school system was great before it was destroyed? Anyway, I was willing to let the magical appearance of an Earth-orbiting asteroid field pass, until the solution to getting of the planet was to try to fly through the asteroid field and find a path that way. What the actual fuck. That is just so mind-bogglingly not how it works. The first thing the space agency would have done when asteroids magically showed up is map and track them all using telescopes on Earth. That way no one would have been trapped (although it might still have been inconvenient to get past them). Also the whole mapping a path through the asteroid field makes it sound like they were magically hovering above the earth (actually, a lot of things sounded like that...) when, duh, they'd be in orbit and not all on the same trajectory if they weren't actually magically gravity defying. Speaking of magic gravity, the author manages to define Lagrange points correctly, then completely misunderstands practical implementations. (Mind you, I would have let that last one pass if it hadn't been repeated three times.)

A lot of the above became apparent near the end of the book, leaving an unpleasant taste in my mouth as I finished it off. There was one physics fail much earlier which annoyed me a lot because it also implied the author doesn't read much SF since it's something that seems to come up a lot (correctly) in other books/stories. Basically, at one point when the main characters are floating in space, their comms fail and they panic and try to mime at each other and stuff. These characters are tethered together and neither of them (not even the more astronaut-trained one!) think to touch their helmets together and talk that way. Sigh. Instead they end up using a torch in a slightly nonsensical way until they fix the radio. So that annoyed me, because it could have been a lovely moment too. (Disappointingly, in a short interview at the back of the book, the author cites the torch solution as one of her favourite parts of the story...)

As I said earlier, the social world building in this book is really interesting. I wouldn't mind reading another book about other people set in the same world to get more insight into other aspects of this future. There were a few contradictions between the idealised society and how things worked in practice that I would like to see explored more. But in the end, and because it was loaded towards the end, I couldn't see past the physics to properly enjoy the book overall. I didn't hate it, but those aspects were very frustrating. The author also did something unusual with the very end, which I don't want to spoil, which piqued my interest as I got to it, but there seemed to be a bit of magic to some of the insights the characters gained because of that writing device, which, well, didn't make sense. But it was still an interesting way to finish things off, even if it broke some narrative rules.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoy reading about future societies and characters getting together. It's definitely not a capital R-omance book, and I don't think it would satisfy a reader who went into it with those expectations. Read it for the social world building and do not expect any of the science to make sense.

3.5 / 5 stars

You can read more of my reviews on my blog. ( )
  Tsana | Feb 24, 2018 |
Hold Back the Stars has a simple premise. Moreover, upon first glance the story seems superficial. The language is undemanding, and the amount of world-building and character development appears to be minimal. In reality though, it is a nuanced and layered piece of fiction that explores the idea of choices and the consequences of them with in-depth characters and a compelling futuristic world.

The fact that the story is so deep comes as a welcome surprise. After all, Ms. Khan’s syntax is straightforward, and the first third of the novel is linear and uncomplicated. The funny thing about basic writing though is how effective it is at painting a picture and developing characters. Ultimately, Ms. Khan has to create a love story between two characters, generate enough sympathy for readers to care about their plight, explain how the two end up stranded in space fighting for their lives, and build a futuristic utopian society that is a natural progression of today’s global environment. She does this because of her basic syntax and uncomplicated storytelling. She succeeds in everything she sets out to create without being obvious about any of it, and the story is richer as a result because it allows Ms. Khan to focus on the layers that make this story so interesting.

Hold Back the Stars is another novel in which it is best not to know much about the story before starting it. Only when the novel is a complete surprise can readers appreciate what Ms. Khan does with the narrative and her reasons for doing so. Knowing what happens in advance ruins the surprise and lessens the impact of her message. In addition, any advance knowledge trivializes the story. What should be a layered story about choice becomes an overly simplistic story about doomed lovers. I know which type of story I prefer to read.
  jmchshannon | Jun 21, 2017 |
Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan is a romance in a science fiction setting. I accepted a review copy based on the description, but I was bitterly disappointed. This is, above all else, a romance, not science fiction. The universe is unrealistic and the sci-fi elements are laughable. I powered through to the end hoping it would get better, but my opinion of the book just kept plummeting with every chapter. This reads like a YA novel.

The description: "Trapped in the vast void of space, Carys and Max have only ninety minutes of oxygen left to live. None of this was supposed to happen. After a freak accident, Carys and Max are left adrift in space with nothing to hold onto but each other. As they fall, they can’t help but look back at the world they left behind. A world whose rules they couldn’t submit to, a place where they never really belonged; a home they’re determined to get back to because they’ve come too far to lose each other now. While their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation - but who will take it?"

Carys and Max are both annoying characters that I could neither relate to nor muster any sympathy for them. Perhaps if the world building was better I could have overlooked my annoyance, but the world building was worse than the actual "star-crossed lovers." For future reference, please, if you are going to write science fiction... if you are going to set your novel in space... if you are going to have an asteroid field circling the Earth, (if... I could go on) please do research. And don't even get me started on the societal rules that are not logically explained. The poor world-building was not just found in the science fiction bits in space.

Now, if you enjoy romance novels, something I avoid, perhaps this novel will be just fine for you because you can ignore all the parts that I intensely disliked.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery Books.
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2010520762 ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | May 25, 2017 |
Set some years into the future in an almost dystopian world, Hold Back the Stars tells the story of Carys and Max who have been cast adrift from their space shuttle. They only have 90 minutes of air left. How they met and how they find themselves in this predicament is told through a series of flashbacks.

At first I found this book weirdly compelling. It's beautifully and imaginatively written. The world the author has drawn is interesting and gives food for thought. The ending is a clever and creative one, quite brilliant really! However, personally, I did not totally engage with the story, it was not one I was desperate to keep picking up just to read a few more pages. Even though there is a definite storyline and a strong love interest, it is too futuristic for me.

An easy read which should appeal to those who enjoy a sprinkling of fairy (or should I say space!) dust mixed in with their sci fi.

Many thanks to Lovereading.co.uk for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. ( )
  VanessaCW | Dec 4, 2016 |
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"A startling and evocative novel, harkening to both One Day and Gravity, a man and a woman revisit memories of their love affair on a utopian Earth while they are trapped in the vast void of space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left. After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world. As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation--but who will take it? An original and daring exploration of the impact of first love and how the choices we make can change the fate of everyone around us, this is an unforgettable read"--… (more)

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