I bought in to THE HOUSE OF STYX based on one word, and that was “Venus.” I have been fascinated and intrigued about the idea of living on dirigibles in the Venusian atmosphere since the idea was first broached. Derek Künsken imagines a far-future where the different nations have staked claims to the different worlds, and somehow or other the French-Canadians got hold of Venus. All righty then. I was sold.
To the extent that THE HOUSE OF STYX is a pioneer story, it works very well. The main characters–a family of scruffy outlaws scraping the lower depths of the Venusian atmosphere–are exactly that, explorers of a new frontier. And rebels in the bargain, once a socialist-medicine death panel decrees that their oldest child should be medically exiled due to his Down Syndrome diagnosis. But it’s a pioneer story with twenty-first century priorities and values. (I disliked the heavy-handed seduction of the sixteen-year-old transsexual character by an older character, mostly because everyone else in the book seemed to be cool with it, no big deal.)
The difficulty I had with THE HOUSE OF STYX is not its setting, necessarily, or its villains (yes, of course they’re faceless capitalist bloodsuckers, because of course they are) but with the author’s lack of faith in his source material. This leads to the inclusion of a plot point that seems preposterous, to the point where the main characters are constantly having to explain to the other characters that it’s not as preposterous as it sounds. (I won’t reveal it here except to say that it’s real CHARIOTS OF THE GODS type stuff.) I was very much attracted to the idea of colonists making their way in a harsh Venusian landscape (there is still plenty of that) but not so much the machinations of the plot Künsken has constructed.
I quite like THE HOUSE OF STYX, and I certainly forgive the author for writing the book he wanted and not the book I expected. It’s solid stuff. But I came away caring much more for the characters (well, some of them) than what awaits them on the surface of Venus in the next installment. That’s a recommendation, mind you, but a slight one.