Title: Ardulum: First Don
Author: J.S. Fields
Publisher: NineStar Press
Length: 248 Pages
At a Glance: A gender-bending science fiction space odyssey!
Reviewed By: Ben
Blurb: Ardulum. The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps.
Neek makes a living piloting the dilapidated tramp transport, Mercy’s Pledge, and smuggling questionable goods across systems blessed with peace and prosperity. She gets by—but only just. In her dreams, she is still haunted by thoughts of Ardulum, the traveling planet that, long ago, visited her homeworld. The Ardulans brought with them agriculture, art, interstellar technology…and then disappeared without a trace, leaving Neek’s people to worship them as gods.
Neek does not believe—and has paid dearly for it with an exile from her home for her heretical views.
Yet, when the crew stumbles into an armed confrontation between the sheriffs of the Charted Systems and an unknown species, fate deals Neek an unexpected hand in the form of a slave girl—a child whose ability to telepathically manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of that of an Ardulan god. Forced to reconcile her beliefs, Neek chooses to protect her, but is the child the key to her salvation, or will she lead them all to their deaths?
Review: Ardulum: First Don does great things for diversity in this sweeping space opera. Firstly, we have our protagonist, a neek called Neek. If her name sounds unoriginal, it’s because it’s supposed to be degrading. Neek has been exiled from her homeworld, a planet with deep religious views, because of her faithlessness (and also probably her violent tendencies, but that’s just my opinion). One of the species the neek worship as gods are the ardulans, long thought to have vanished with their traveling planet (that’s no planet…!).
It is then with great irony that the outcast Neek, and the ship she works on, run into an alien trafficking operation and rescue a girl they believe to be ardulan, the only ardulan that anyone has seen in many, many years. With further irony, this particular ardulan can only communicate with Neek because of some sort of neek/ardulan telepathy stuff, and maybe an extra special component I’m just going to hint at.
As Neek and her crew figure out what to do with the child ardulan, they find themselves in the middle of an intergalactic political battle. The entire galaxy seems to be hell-bent on erasing the existence of the ardulans, for whatever reason, and the child, something Neek isn’t too keen on.
There were many things I liked about this novel. I liked the worldbuilding—it was clear we are only seeing a tip of the iceberg when it comes to how dense this world is with information. We encounter species with three genders, species with no gender, and species who are basically tiny round cyborgs… the gods only know of their gender inclinations. It was all incredibly fascinating. I would love to sit with the author over tea and listen to her explain the Arudulum world to me, and I don’t say that lightly.
I also liked Neek as a protagonist. Sure, she’s a bit rough around the edges for her species, but I found her feisty attitude and point of view refreshing.
My favorite thing about the novel was the revolutionary gender and sexuality in the universe, including using a female protagonist, the gender-bending species inhabiting the universe, and the use of neutral pronouns. To be completely honest, I didn’t have a strong grasp of using gender neutral pronouns (besides ‘they’) before reading this, so not only was it fascinating as it related to the author’s world, but it was also informative. There is more than one set of gender neutral pronouns used in this work, which makes this world incredibly original and precious. For fun, I tried to figure out the thought processes behind using the different gender neutral pronouns, and it seems as if one set of species had a third gender, so they used one kind of gender neutral pronouns, and the other species was all the same gender, but neither male nor female, so they use another set of pronouns. Pretty snazzy.
One of the more difficult parts in this story for me to accept was how I didn’t really click with the plot or characters until about twenty percent into the novel, which, if I hadn’t been doing a review, I may have stopped reading before then. On the whole, I felt as if the work could have been tighter.
The other aspect of this work that was hard for me to swallow was the use of the protagonist’s clumsy and violent nature as a sort of haphazard plot device. In at least two parts I noted Neek’s flailing actions as her ‘accidentally’ stumbling onto a plot driver and progressing the story. That was one happy accident too many for me, I’m afraid.
All and all I enjoyed this work. I definitely recommend it for science fiction lovers who appreciate great worldbuilding and some fun gender-bending aliens—gender bending for us, that is. Their genders are perfectly normal to them.
You can buy Ardulum: First Don here: