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The House of Styx

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This book has almost everything I want in a Sci-Fi title. The plot is really interesting and the characters are relatable. I particularly loved Pascal(e) and Marthe. The only two things I would criticize of this book and the reaosn it gets a 4 star review is the fact that sometimes there were some things written in french that some people may not understand (luckily for me my level was enough) and the fact that the end of the book felt kind of rushed.

Sadly I felt a bit of a disconnection between this wonderful plot and the ending but I also understand that it was necessary as a setting for an upcoming book. I just hope a continuation comes fast

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This one doesn't seem to be as tightly written as his Quantum books. The opening chapter should grab the reader's attention, for instance, and while the choice of opening scene seems intended to do that, the fact that the author describes every minor action the two characters take is excruciating. The net effect removes the excitement altogether.

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The House of Styx by Derek Kunsken- Wow! This is pretty much fully realized hard Science Fiction. The details of how these people survive living in the acid clouds of Venus are compelling as is the very humanistic family setting through which the story comes together. I've read the old planet adventures of Venus from Burroughs, Kline and later Zelazny's, and this carries on this tradition in a new and gritty way. Others have imagined life in the swirling clouds of the second planet, but this goes into greater detail of the fragility of life and the stark dangers faced every day. A rewarding book and the beginning of a series that I'll be looking forward to. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

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The House of Styx is bold, imaginative science fiction and it shows that planetary colonization can proceed in was unanticipated. All the action takes place on Venus, or rather, in the atmosphere of Venus with brief touch tags on the surface. Turns out Venus gets colonized by French Canadians and the surface is so inhospitable that the Venusians in La Colonie live in the clouds. The vast majority (about 4,000) live in artificial habitats high in the clouds, venturing into the atmosphere in sealed suits and flying wing suits, diving through the air. They are in hock to the large banks and rationing raw materials and healthcare. Never forget though the atmosphere of Venus is filled with sulphuric acid like acid rain and is deadly to the extreme. The younger generation doesn't know earth and has never seen the surface. Many are caught up in drugs, orgies, and self-destructive behavior with some even worshipping the planet and symbolically burning themselves in honor of the deadly planet.

Lower in the atmosphere are the rebels, about 400 people in small family groups, living in giant trawlers, or giant Venusian plants, harvesting from the atmosphere, hiding out from centralized control, off the grid as much as possible. The D'Aquillon family is one such group of rebels who, when told to abort their Downs child, went rebel and decided that if he wasn't going to get rationed healthcare, no one in the family would. The father rules by force of will, but half the family perished in Venus' harsh world and the remaining two adult children, Marthe and Emile live in the higher levels where Marthe is a delegate and Emil grandfather goes to parties and dates Therese, who has a cult following.

Meanwhile, back at the lower levels, sixteen year old self-taught engineer Pascal (who decides to come out of the closet and then gender identity swap) and his father discover something on the surface that could change the family fortunes like winning the lottery. That is, if they can harvest it and trade it. And it's going to take everything they have to get to the precious discovery.

This story makes it on the incredible world building and it's rather difficult to even picture the floating habitats and the wings. It all builds and builds. Some of the personal stories of the characters were probably unnecessary to the resolution of this story. Nevertheless, quite a creative and fascinating tale.

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The House of Styx drops us onto planet Venus where in the future Quebec has finally declared independence from Canada and taken to the stars. For the most part I found this a really enjoyable book and the idea of a quite literal cloud city was fun to imagine. Because of the wild west nature of space exploration there is plenty of intrigue both political and apparently financial which should be developed in upcoming books. I was also really pleased to see some queer representation, thoughtfully handled. I did feel at times that the technical aspects were a little heavy handed and I found myself skimming these once I was familiar with the environment as I'm not sure I really needed to know or would even understand so much shifting information. I also found the name Styx for the family to be an odd choice when literally everything else is so solidly Quebecoix. Maybe as a title it was just snappier but I found it jarring and the explanation sparse. It is the family connection that I found most interesting though, so I expect this will make me return to Venus in future.

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Synopsis: 2255 A.D. Venus is sparsely populated by Québécois descendants. Of course not on Venus's hard surface, because it is far too hot there and the pressure is also not sufferable. Instead, they built their homes floating in the acidic clouds, strutted by huge bio-engineered jellyfish similar life forms called "trawler", extracting elements from the atmosphere which are thrown up by the volcanoes.

The story follows the D'Aquillon family living in their habitat Causapscal-des-Profondeurs in the lower levels where it is harder to survive, because they separated from the rest of the colony. The reason for this is that the colony didn't want to support their child handicapped with Down syndrome. The parents faced the decision to either perform an abortion or live without the necessary medicaments. Their motto is "family first", so they decided pro life and their firstborn son Jean-Eudes is charming, warm-hearted, and fully accepted by his siblings. 

Some of the family members lost their lifes in the harsh environment. Father George-Étienne tries to hold together the whole family. Jean-Eudes mostly raises young Alexis. Separated from the whole family lives their sister Marthe in a habitat high in the clouds. She was sent out as delegate in the Venusian legislative assembly and proves her value as diplomat drawing strings against the Venusian president. Her brother Émile lives with her, because he fled a confrontation with his stubborn father. He is a lazy going poet trying his luck in a love affair with Therese - an interesting, though self-destructive woman who builds up a kind of new religion worshipping Venus by inhaling the atmosphere and aciding herself.

The story's hero is Pascal, a courageous 16 year old engineering genius. Very early on it is hinted that he doesn't like his body at all and after a while he finds out that he is really a girl in the body of a man. At this instant, he renames herself secretly Pascale and the story continues as "her" which I found extremely interesting and satisfying.

The novel's plot develops around a discovery by George-Étienne where he found out that at floor of Diana Chasma, things behave goofy. It is an extreme adventure to go down to the ground in a kind of floating submarine in the high pressure and temperature. They find a mysterious cave there and start exploring it.

Review: This novel starts a new series but has a satisfying ending without a huge cliffhanger. It is mostly Hard SF with one exception that they interpret from their findings in the cave. 

SF on Venus was common in Pulp times, when authors invented jungles and dinosaurs, or even high tech civilizations there - this form is called "Old Venus" and authors still write this fiction topic, e.g. in an anthology edited by GRRM and Dozois. In contemporary SF, authors are mostly invested in Mars or the Jupiter moons, but Venus went out of focus. That's maybe because the living conditions on the ground are hard to describe and living in the atmosphere doesn't seem that interesting. 

That's why I love this novel: nearly prosaic narration comparable to Kim Stanley Robinson's visions of Mars describing the several cloud layers with grand views of the transparent layers at Les Plaines and Grande Allée between the cloud decks and the stygian Venusian floor. The inventive, but valid life form of the trawlers, and the humans flying around from habitat to habitat.

It is not only the Hard SF part of this novel with the planet and engineering which fascinated me, but also the social dimension: First the wholesome family centered around a handicapped adult with breaks in its history coming to the foreground later in the story. The founding of a religion. The political workings of a colony depending on a bank which is not exactly altruistic. Those dimensions perfectly balance the narration to a complete setting.

I fully recommend this impressive novel and can't wait for book 2 in the series.

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The House of Styx is by Derek Künsken, author of The Quantum Evolution series. It's set in the 23rd century, when Earth has colonised the inner planets and some asteroids. The story is based on Venus, which has been colonised by Quebec (the author is from Canada), and where families live on bio-engineered plant-based dirigibles in the cloud layers, extracting what they can from the atmosphere to survive.

The D'Aquillon family live in the lower levels, and when they discover something on the surface that shouldn't be there, plans start being made to solidify their claim before the governing body beats them to it.

The author has created an remarkably detailed and realistic portrayal of living in the clouds of Venus; the changes in conditions as one moves up or down through the layers (including the "goldilocks zone" at about 50km from the surface), keeping safe from the deadly sulfuric acid rain, and the difficulties of surface exploration with the crushing atmosphere and high temperatures.

There's some notable differences to the previous Quantum Evolution books, the main being The House of Styx feels to have less hard SF elements (though there is plenty of science about Venus, probably also anything "quantum" starts to make most minds boggle to a degree), but also there's more of a human element in this book. It explores the family unit and issues of loyalty, identity and gender within some of the characters, and it's done quite well too - the struggles the youngest son Pascal goes through is quite heartfelt.

I realised after about half to two-thirds through that the story was going to be continued in another book (didn't know this beforehand), which means there wasn't full resolution on the plot lines. I'm in two minds on this - if it was contained in one novel it would have made for a punchier, more exciting story; but at the same time there's now anticipation for book 2!

But overall this was an impressive novel, and a worthy entry on colonising Venus in modern SF!

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