This Weightless World
by Adam Soto
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Pub Date 09 Nov 2021 | Archive Date 26 Oct 2021
Astra Publishing House, Astra House
"Set in Silicon Valley and Chicago, This Weightless World considers questions of morality in a world where people feel powerless in the face of formidable systemic forces." —Laura Adamczyk, A.V. Club
A literary debut subverting classic sci-fi tropes set in gentrified Chicago, Silicon Valley, and across the vastness of the cosmos.
From the streets of gentrified Chicago, to the tech boom corridors of Silicon Valley, This Weightless World follows a revolving cast of characters after alien contact upends their lives.
We are introduced to Sevi, a burned-out music teacher desperate for connection; Ramona, his on-again, off-again computer programmer girlfriend; and Sevi’s cello protégé Eason, struggling with the closure of his high school; after a mysterious signal arrives from outer space. When the signal—at first seen as a sign of hope—stops as abruptly as it started, they are all forced to reckon with its aftermath. In San Francisco, Sevi fights to find meaning in rekindled love; and Ramona–determined to build an AI to prevent mankind’s self-destruction–begins to feel the weight of past mistakes. And in Chicago, Eason measures his commitment to an estranged childhood friend against the chance of escaping neighborhood troubles.
A dazzling deconstruction of science-fiction tropes, This Weightless World looks to the past for a vision of the future.
“This Weightless World filters its alien encounters and deep-space expeditions, its dreams and anxieties about the centuries to come, through the beating hearts of a few struggling, yearning, fumbling, desperate, modern-day human beings. It’s not so much a novel of ideas, asking, ‘What does the future hold for us?,’ as a novel populated by characters who can’t stop asking themselves that same question. Reading it, I was reminded that caring about the fate of the planet is really a matter of caring about the fates of its billions of distinct and individual inhabitants, with their billions of distinct and individual futures.”
—Kevin Brockmeier, author of A Brief History of the Dead
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Virtual and/or in-person author tour including independent bookstores and festivals (Texas Book Festival, Chicago Humanities Festival, Bay Area Book Festival, Brooklyn Book Festival, etc)
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Targeted outreach to sci-fi, tech culture, and regional literary media (Texas, Chicago, Northern California)
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Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 22 members
I love a story that dances around a major event ([book:Leave the World Behind|50358031] with the apocalypse, anyone?) and this did not disappoint. There are a lot of works out there about First Contact, but This Weightless World knocks it out of the park when it comes to viewing the events impact on the every day person. Sure, Ramona carries more 'main character' energy that kind of throws off that vibe, but it <i>works</i> and ties it together without being thrown in your face.
The only drawback to this story is the fact that it feels paced a little slow - but that's not a HUGE drawback considering what I did like about this. I really would love to read more books like This Weightless World.
Thank you to NetGalley, Astra House, and Adam Soto for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
<s>I also really like the cover even though I didn't at first? idk</s>
OH my gosh. This book was sooooo cool. When I was reading it, I felt so mature haha. Although I read a lot of contemporary, sci-fi is actually one of my favorite genres. But it's just so like scientific and "inspiring" this was a nice indulge and it was a super fun and cool read.
The only reason that I am rating this 4 stars is because I feel like the level was a little too high so I didn't understand EVERYTHING.
but yeah, if you are older than me, this will probably be a 5 star read for you!
The Good: Empathetic characters trying to help after alien contact; an AI that "saves" humanity
The Bad: Light on plot and scifi
The Literary: Multiple POVs, alternating timelines; Italo Calvino, The Grapes of Wrath, Les Miserables, and many more that comment on the human situation
SETI begins to receive a message from Omni-7xc, a planet 75 light years away, confirming extraterrestrial life. As the news unfolds, Sevi, a high school music teacher, answers the phone when his on-again, off-again computer-programmer girlfriend Ramona calls, and they pick up their relationship where they left off. The school where Sevi teaches closes, and his favorite music student struggles to find his place in the world.
This Weightless World sounds like scifi, but it's more interested in exploring the struggles of humanity. Once I accepted this story as more literary than scifi and settled into the sad intellectual monologues about how we humans are mostly terrible, I enjoyed this one a lot more. So since you know the themes are much bigger than the plot, I'll spoil a little. The signal from space is constant, and as scientists begin to decode it humanity's infighting stops as we begin to turn our perspectives outward. Things seem optimistic. Then, the signal abruptly stops, and we fall back into our old patterns.
Nearly all the characters revolve around Sevi, each with their own cares and motivations, all of whom really come to life. Sevi, the burned-out music teacher who regrets many of his life decisions, is primarily looking for a small slice of happiness and connection by trying to make it work with Ramona. Ramona works long hours coding on a special AI program at Google, one that's designed to steer users to make decisions based on what the AI deems necessary for human survival. The only student with whom Sevi remains in contact after the high school closes is Eason, a young man who wrestles with the choice of selling drugs to help a friend or trying to leave his neighborhood and pursue classical music. Then there's Sevi's brother, Samson, who neglects all his relationships to follow the next humanitarian crusade, this time to Syria. There are two more POV characters, one in the past, and one in the future, who provide wonderful bookends, but I'll let you experience those for yourself.
Everybody in this story is trying their best to make the world a better place in their own way, often disagreeing on the best path forward. But what they all have in common with each other and the reader is that they all hit an empathy wall. The world is too big and they can only do so much, and I'd argue, are forgiven by the reader.
As the world moves around him, Sevi notes and comments on gentrification, cops shooting black people, the coral reefs dying, separating art from the artist, aging parents, music as powerful as medicine or language, being the only brown person in your friend group, and consciousness as self, to name a few. But most importantly, this book reinforces the idea that we love to think that something will come along at the perfect time to solve all of the problems we ourselves created.
Highly recommended for idealistic and compassionate readers who enjoy scifi and fantasy that reflects on the nature of human empathy surrounding a world-changing event. See Cloud Atlas, 1Q84, Contact, and Station Eleven.
I really loved this book! Such an interesting way to flip sci-fi tropes and create such a compelling story. The atmosphere of this book really stood out to me - I really loved how I felt while reading and was so excited to get back to this book during the day.
This was an interesting and strangely enjoyable read for me. I’m not entirely sure I understood everything the author was going for but I liked the multiple characters viewpoints and also how this had a quite personal level that could be broadened to just being human. The story basically begins when a signal is heard from a distant planet called Omni. It’s a planet wide game changer apparently. The main earth based characters revolve around Sevi, a cellist and teacher in Chicago. His ex girlfriend Ramona works for Google on AI and has moved to San Francisco. Eason is Sevi’s student, and gifted musician. Another main thread of the story and probably the bit I liked the most was the astronaut, He Zhen, on the way to Omni. In conversation with the AI on board, stories are told, history, nature and humanity are all explored. I enjoyed the writing and the story comes together well. It’s both sad and hopeful in the end.
“Mr. Del Toro wasn’t an adult, not really…”
This book charmed me in so many ways! I should start out by saying that, generally, I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, but something about the blurb and the cover for this volume really intrigued me… and for me personally, it paid off! Soto’s narrative and language is a delight, and I have to comment on how much I loved their various characters and the development - I honestly felt that each character was a living, breathing, flawed individual, which is often difficult to replicate in multiple pov novels, so I applaud Soto here. Also, this was the first time I have ever read about a *female* programmer, in a way that actually felt authentic and realistic and it was *so* refreshing!
It’s the depth to the writing, the layers of information and details and the context that makes this volume so honest and so unnervingly believable. This could have happened (and still continue to happen), without question.
I’m completely won over. What a delight!
Thank you to NetGalley and AstraHouse for the privilege!
Ps. When the chapters open with speech, even with the presentation of the oversized capital letter, I would have thought speech marks should still be included.
On January 1, 2012, we learned that we were not alone in the universe. Signals from a planet called Omni, 75 light years away, have reached Earth. This Weightless World follows main characters music teacher Sevi Del Toro, his Google-employed programmer girlfriend Romona, and his cello protege Eason, through life in the aftermath of this great awakening. Prior to the discovery of Omni, Ramona had relocated from Chicago to California for her work for Google, and her relationship with Sevi had fizzled. But Omni rekindles a euphoric and carefree love, and Sevi quits his teaching job (as the public schools are closing down around him in favor of Charters anyway) and moves to California as well, leaving Eason, a young Black teenager, without his music-loving role model. Insets from different timelines punctuate the novel, transporting our perspective. At times dark and introspective and at times elated and almost delirious, This Weightless World is a book that will make you pause and think about existence: human, alien, and AI. Packed with tidbits of knowledge strung together by character development it’s about the impact on relationships, philosophy when one truth changes everything - a signal from another planet knowing we are not alone in the universe.
This Weightless World can best be described as literary science fiction, with deeply beautiful and thoughtful writing. At times it reminded me of Arthur C Clarke, Ursula K Le Guin, and occasionally Philip K Dick in tone. Slow in pace, I found myself circling back to highlight passages and pausing often to think between sections. This novel isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you enjoy slow, character based, introspective classic science fiction like I do, this is the book for you.
4.5 stars, with the strong potential for a rating increase the longer I sit and think with this book.
Given the gravity of its subject matter, This Weightless World is an oddly gentle--or perhaps gently odd--book. While its themes include the struggles and conflicts of race, class, gender, and ideologies in 21st-century America as well as the global impact of a message from another planet, its focus on the relationships between its central characters makes it a book about the human rather than a book about humanity.
In places I found that Soto's narrative loses propulsive force underneath the weight of a few too many perspective shifts and a little too much textual atmosphere. The characters are so sympathetic, though, and the atmosphere so tangible, that the book doesn't suffer overly much from its own occasional wallowing. It picks back up and keeps going, and keeps the reader with it.
This is a nice entry in the world of literary science fiction. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for speculative fiction that doesn't rely on violence, action, or grand adventure to convey its messages, and anyone who is more interested in the potential impact of alien life on the human condition than in the details of that alien life.
I received a free e-ARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my review.
**Thank you to NetGalley and Astra House Publishing for the eARC of this book**
This was one of those books that I should have liked ~in theory.~
First contact - check
Characters with depth - check
Spaceships - check
Unfortunately, the plot fell flat for me and never really got going, making this book an effort to read. I typically enjoy books that switch between multiple characters that all end up being connected somehow, but this one felt choppy and confusing instead of cohesive.
While I liked the overall concepts and ideas behind this book, everything was beaten to death with political conversations. At the beginning of the book, Earth receives a signal from space. Earthlings begin behaving better, making elaborate promises - anything to make humans look “better” to the aliens.
Very early on in the book I got Childhood’s End vibes from Arthur C Clarke. That then turned into a couple hundred pages of lukewarm political standpoints.
As someone who reads to get AWAY from the real world, I just found this novel to be overall not an enjoyable read.
3 stars for characters that I cared about and an overall interesting concept.
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