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Escape Velocity by Victor Manibo

Escape Velocity by Victor Manibo

Victor Manibo’s second novel Escape Velocity is an odd mix of genres. It has the vibe of a classic crime novel meeting a kind of Downtown Abbey/Upstairs Downstairs narrative together with a decline and fall of the Roman Empire view of the 0.1% all set in a science fiction context. Some of this works, some of it doesn’t, and not all of it sits well together, except possibly in a broad thematic way. But for the most part the mystery keeps everything ticking along and the scenario that Manibo presents is fun and engaging.

The present day action of Escape Velocity takes place on a luxury space station called Altaire which is hosting the twenty-fifth reunion for a class from the Rochford Institute an exclusive private school. Most of the alumni of that class, themselves children of the 0.1%, have gone on to run the companies that essentially run the world. The narrative focusses on four of these – Henry Gallagher, Tom ‘Laz’ Lazarro, Charles Sloane and Ava Khan – four friends from that high school who all have ulterior motives for being at the event. Sitting behind all of this is the death of Ava’s abusive brother at the school, a death that Ava was blamed for and in which the other three were involved. The rest of the passengers are members of the ultra-wealthy elite, all of whom are jockeying for a place in a new settlement on Mars as the Earth dies beneath them. The application process for being part of the Mars settlement is as rigged as everything else, and they all know it. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing among the huge numbers of service staff – underpaid, overlooked and fed up with the institutional injustice that they experience and witness.

From its cold open which has Henry waking to find himself thrown overboard in a failing space suit, it feels like Escape Velocity is going to be some sort of Agatha Christie-style country estate mystery (set in space). But by the time the narrative circles back to this point it is clear that Manibo has other things on his mind. The decades old mystery is a bit of a driver for some of the action but really just ends up providing some colour and backstory to the characters. And to show that these people did not become selfish with age- that they were always selfish and self serving.

And in the end, that is the underlying vibe of Escape Velocity. It is a novel about class warfare. About the people who sit on the top of the pile and manipulate the rules to their own benefit. About the fact that even with all of this privilege it is never enough, that they always want more. And it is about those who have to stand servile in the background. Which is not surprising given Manibo’s author bio which lists him as a ‘queer [Filipino] immigrant (many of the characters in Escape Velocity, both rich and poor, are Filipino) and a person of colour’. That is not to say that this is a staid lecture on class politics but with scenes like an orgy in a lunar-inspired bathhouse or everyone getting dressed up for an opera in a faux-Venetian opera house in space, it is also not particularly subtle either.

So in many respects Escape Velocity is a bait and switch – come for the murder mystery (such as it is) and stay for the social commentary. Which allows for plenty of revelation, action and wish fulfilment in the final act even while it does not make a whole lot of sense.

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Escpae Velocity by Victor Manibo

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Escpae Velocity by Victor Manibo



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