Mondragon, by Aran Jane, is a sci-fi/biopunk action adventure, set more than a thousand years in the future, after a ceasefire between genetically mutated Martian colonists known as "newstylers" and the unmodified "accidentals" back on Earth.
In Shanghai, Earth's capital, battle-weary Derek Mondragon looks after wounded fellow soldier MacCullum, the last casualty of the Newstyler Rebellion. Meanwhile, his home life deteriorates, resulting in the mother of his child abandoning them both.
Derek is troubled by MacCullum's obsession with an ancient codex that warns of an existential threat tied to the current interplanetary conflict. When MacCullum is attacked in his hospital room for that knowledge, and then Derek's young daughter is removed to a hatchery (a state-run orphanage that turns kids into science projects), Derek goes AWOL to take matters into his own hands, only to land unexpectedly in the middle of a secret mission that might decide the fate of everyone on both planets. ~Goodreads Blurb
A feat by newly published author Aran Jane, Mondragon is a speculative science fiction novel that draws you into his world. It looks like our own, and yet it turns our view on its head. With space exploration, the introduction of new technology and an almost fantasy style of biological manipulation of human life Aran Jane manages to create a world quite unlike our own while filling it with the all too common human emotions and flaws.
With some speculative fiction you are introduced to a world that just seems to have one or two differences that make the world an alternative timeline. Such as who wins the second World War in The Man in the High Castle and the like, this novel has taken the common idea of uploading ourselves in order to transport ourselves across the galaxy and expanded upon it. It assumes a world where we have advanced to a point where those who have uploaded their existence and those who retain their humanity are at odds. This leaves you with a them versus us that isn’t bound by race but by “progress.” The idea that science would progress to an extent that people created by what we today would see as natural creation would be viewed as accidentals. It gives a thought provoking viewpoint that keeps the reader wondering which side to choose.
While the distinction is made early between newstylers and accidentals, one must read further on to really understand what the author means. Simply saying this is “A” and these guys are “B” left me to try and fill in the blanks. Later on in the book I was able to understand as the world building was fleshed out and more of the back story was filled in. So even if you don’t automatically understand I encourage you to keep going. The threads you’re given at the beginning do eventually make a rich tapestry.
Speaking of the world building and the science part of the science fiction, I have to give a thank you to the author. Many times authors will fudge the facts or at least play with the numbers or the nature of the sciences to suit their story. While I am no quantum physicist and my grasp of the sciences is limited, I found Aran Jane’s way of explaining the mechanics of his sandbox and showing the readers the limits of the science refreshing.
Using the Voynich Manuscript was a lovely touch as well. In a world full of technology and code breakers, it is still a source of fascination today. Unsolved and full of a language that no one understands, it is a mystery that has been written about many times. Aran Jane’s choice in making it a message from the past to the future was an interesting turn as was his decision over the Voynich witches inclusion.
While I’m not crazy about the fact that all the women in Mondragon’s life, besides his wife, seem to flock to him, I am glad that the author included women in a manner that made them more than bystanders. It kept the story from becoming a sausage fest and a boys brigade. I could have used more women but I leave that us to the author’s next work.
For a newly published author’s first book I am impressed and look forward to whatever he publishes next. Mondragon is a 479 page book with rather lengthy chapters(25.) I would not recommend this book for a light-hearted read as it is quite dense(in a good way.) If you are looking for a world that you can dive into and really enjoy, this would be perfect for you. A delightful read that is sure to capture your mind and leave you wondering at your own humanity.
Freelance Editor & Reviewer