VanWest The Past, by Kenneth Thomas, is a dystopian scifi novel. In 3000, the battle between the haves and have-nots on Earth has become a divide between genetically enhanced, long-lived Elites and working Citizens.
Our hero, Captain VanWest, is a competitor in the worldwide war games, something between our real Olympics and a dark Hunger Games. If VanWest can succeed here, he’ll join the Elites. I enjoyed the references to Roman myth here, and this battle allows readers to see VanWest’s character.
Although we quickly come to admire VanWest’s strength and discipline, it takes a while to see much of his emotions and internal thoughts. VanWest’s challenges take him into the past, where we see his strength and quick-thinking again and again, and he’s finally challenged to take a stand between obedience and rebellion. Most importantly, by this point, I cared enough about VanWest to worry about him.
The worldbuilding in VanWest: The Past highlights many familiar problems in our own world, and posits a dystopian outcome to these worries. All of today’s worries about climate destruction and social inequality have intensified, creating a dark but believable future. Since the story takes place hundreds of years in the future (well… VanWest timetravels, but the story begins far in the future), spoken English has undergone some changes. The characters in VanWest have their own slang, which adds to the worldbuilding whenever they speak.
Without revealing too much about the ending, I’ll just say that a sequel is clearly coming.
The descriptive beginning reminds readers where they are in this dark future world. VanWest begins in the underworld of New Jersey, ready to make the shady, dangerous arrangement that will get him to Mars to continue his quest. Readers will see some old friends, as well as a wild variety of new characters in this cyberpunk-style adventure. VanWest is still our hero, and readers will see him tested again.
The writing style in Van West: The Present is a lot like the first book, blending the simple, declarative narration describing a complex scifi universe, with lots of moving pieces, and stylized dialogue to show characters’ backgrounds and personalities. And the worldbuilding still works, the factions have believable goals in this dystopian future, and the twists work well in the established world.
I originally called Van West: The Present a sequel, but it’s really the second in a trilogy, with one more VanWest story coming.