Review by Karl Verhoven
Perhaps anticipating the day when The Survivors will be read as a single collection instead of individual episodes, Leo fulfils the promise of additional information that closed Episode 2. Nine dense pages of it open Episode 3 as characters who’ve been absent are brought up to date on what’s happened over six years. “This planet is a crossroads for a multitude of species from different parts of the universe. All like us: survivors of accidents caused by the quantum anomalies in this region of space.” Subtle it isn’t, but it’s required to move the plot forward. Even more obvious and not as required are the characters explaining what we’ve already seen.
All this segues into one of Leo’s seedy sex scenes, with the cast discussing sleeping arrangements for half a page beforehand. As in his other books, the sexual contact transmits as lingering, forced and voyeuristic, as if Leo’s extending his fantasies beyond science fiction. A similar clumsiness characterises the conflicting relationships Leo introduces based on attraction. They have a one-dimensional, soap opera convenience rather than any depth. Significantly better is the flourishing characterisation of someone who’s basically an arse, but embittered and unpleasant at not living up to their heroic ideal. There’s been an antagonistic consistency to Mel, and a resentful edge is now established. Less realistic is why any woman would stay with him.
The bigger plot eventually manifests, and as ever with Leo, it’s fascinating and engaging. For all his clumsiness with relationships there’s a great humanity to Leo’s plots, and central to them are the unanswered questions of our lives. What’s out there and how we engage with it is a theme common to all his Aldebaran-related projects, and the nice understated ending to this book plays on that to drag us into Episode 4.
So, some fantastic ideas accompanied by some woeful characterisation and great wads of exposition, much of it unnecessary, but what pushes this over the halfway mark is Leo’s art. Even in the midst of the poor character stretches, his way with facial expression is lively and interesting, and when it comes to designing aliens he’s top notch. A sequence toward the end requires a maritime community, and they’re wonderfully designed, a mad geneticist’s combination of Earth marine creatures, but with life to them beyond that, and thought given to how they’d function as a society.
As previously noted, this series began a considerable time before the connected Aldebaran, Betelgeuse and Antares arcs, but anyone who’s read those is aware of the mechanics currently puzzling much of this cast, and of the Mantris. That is a slight drawback, diminishing the sense of wonder that’ll be experienced by anyone coming to The Survivors without experiencing Leo’s other work.