The Burning Life

Category: Science-fiction novel
Page count: 330
Language: English
Author(s): Hjalti Daníelsson
Publisher: Gollancz (Orion Publishing Group)
Year of publication: 2010
ISBN: 978-0-575-09017-0
In a very distant future, human civilizations have emerged from an age of darkness in the star cluster known as New Eden. The conflicts between them are resolved in space battles daily led by immortal capsuleer captains. One of them attacks and destroys Drem's colony, killing all the people he ever cared about. Drem vows to avenge himself.
The setting of the novel originates with Eve Online, a massively multiplayer online game.

Spoilers below, including the ending.
The first official novel-sized adaptation of the Eve universe was The Empyrean Age (2008), by Tony Gonzales. In my opinion, it was a weak book, definitely not only-100-books-in-your-island material, but I remember enjoying it. Things were happening: a war between two superpowers was in the making.
The Burning Life, on the other hand, disappointed and bored me, much to my surprise. I really do like some "chronicles" (short stories) the author, also known as CCP Abraxas, has published on the official Eve Online website, for example The Part Where I Play the Devil and A Beautiful Face - but there are plenty more. Some of these short stories rock and contribute much to the background of Eve. Hjalti Daníelsson is very good with scenes and the best parts of The Burning Life are just that: scenes, short story material. The meeting with the Upright Man springs to mind, and could as well be an Eve chronicle.
But story? Lively narration? Not there. Turning pages was a little bit painful at times.

The relationships between the characters, Drem and Verena to begin with, made me cringe. I find it difficult to express why. Perhaps because they were way too much predictable and lacking, well, character? We could have done without the romance. We know Drem and Ralea are going to make it to the end; not once did I fear for their life. Even the factions look bland. The Blood Raiders, this horrific sect of butchers, are almost made into a bunch of normal people with suburbian values. There is way too much morality, trust and due process in this book. We get to see how even pirate factions function with the kind of rules and organization you find in the corporate world. That is okay at some level, but it also detracts from the aura of these criminal cartels.

I did not like the way the book looks like a guided tour of the four empires and the most important faction pirates. It looked too much artificial, reeked of marketing imperatives. I did not buy the book to "learn the setting of Eve", I did it for the story, and even potential Eve players who buy this book are looking for a story rather than a wiki.
I thought this structure made New Eden look smaller than it was. More than five thousand star systems, trillions of inhabitants, and the killer of a drug dealer (what's that supposed to deserve, a slap on the hand?) cannot hide anywhere? The universe in the novel is for my taste considered too much from the peculiar point of view of capsuleers rather than normal people.

The synopsis is good if ironic for an Eve player. The elevator pitch: "A missioning carebear (player character -pc- who avoids conflicts with other players) destroys a pirate colony during a mission; a non-playing character (npc) loses everything during that event, and decides to go on a quest for revenge." The novel speaks about the consequences of the casual slaughters perpetrated by player characters between two bio breaks. It is a fun premise for a story.
The anticlimactic ending, though conceptually interesting, failed to impress me. It proposes again consequences, but from the npc world to the pc one. In a nutshell, the npc extort a promise from an unnamed capsuleer to steal the assets of his alliance. This kind of theft is a common occurrence in the game. Corp thieves are now able to better roleplay their misdeeds! As an Eve player, seeing and making this kind of connections entertains me, the same way I was entertained when A Beautiful Face (see above) explained the consequences of the "character picture-swapping" in-game functionality.

In conclusion, the overabundance of stuff kills the potential of the story. The book has its moments (mewling True Sanshas, Gallentean body artists), but becomes boring after a while. I am certain CCP Abraxas can do much better, if he does not let anything go in the way of his story, and I hope he will grace us with more good reading in the future!

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