A.C. Flory has created a unique world for the Suns of Vohhtah series. She really, really has spent some serious time figuring out every last detail of this bizarre, alien world. Every season, every caste in her hierarchy, and every new, alien species has its own name. There is a hell of a lot of work that went into making Vokhtah a complete, detailed world. I really feel like I need to acknowledge that before I say what I’m about to.
Here is the problem with this kind of rampant world-building: the author is the only one who’s done it. I wasn’t there when the seasons got their names, or when the weather patterns of the binary star system were sorted out. They were, and it is so cool that they were, but I wasn’t there when this nomenclature was generated.
The learning curve on Vokhtah is a real son of a bitch. A.C. Flory knows it, too; part of the query e-mail I received warned me that
“The story is fast paced, but as there are no humans to ‘explain’ the culture, readers are thrown in at the deep end, and can find the beginning a challenge.”
Yeah…that’s an understatement. The dense opening of this book will throw names, titles, castes, seasons, items, and everything else at you in rapid succession. Ms. Flory has spent so much time building this world that she has forgotten that her reader simply does not understand what is going on, and she hasn’t gone back to try to explain it to us. I’m fine with not inserting a human, but you have to do something to ease the reader into your totally alien world.
It’s made worse by the fact that there are no personal names for the characters; it seems that everything is based on titles and position, and if you are the Blue then that’s what we’re going to call you. This does create a very strange, alien feeling, so kudos to that. But I can tell from the book blurb that I’m supposed to care about the Blue, and I just don’t. It’s only referred to by title, and it’s only referred to using the gender-neutral “it,” so I tend to think of the Blue and every last character in here as being so totally detached from me emotionally that I frankly don’t care if their world ends.
Vokhtah is a stunning lesson to those of you out there who are world-builders. This is a really complete and totally alien world, and for the intricacy with which she built it I have nothing but praise for A.C. Flory. But Vokhtah is a terrible read, because you simply can’t bring yourself to care about the characters. The Blue is on its mission to cure the Six of this place, but the Six of that place will not be happy about that, and maybe the Yellow will try to interfere. There’s just no attempt to give us any sort of insight into these characters. A.C. Flory wanted to create something totally alien to us, and succeeded. But by not giving any human characteristics to her sentient creatures, she’s also alienated them from us.
The fact that she prepped me for that in her e-mail tells me a great deal. It tells me that I am not the first person to comment to her on this problem; she’s aware of it. It tells me that she thinks her story would be watered down by the inclusion of some form of explanation, and it would be. But here’s the thing; what she has right now is a frozen can of lemonade concentrate. It’s too much flavor in too little space; watering down is exactly what it needs to taste delicious. Stop fighting against the people who are telling you how to make your book better.
And the names. Dear God. Everything has it’s own cool name, and I love and hate that at the same time. Nothing is ever defined for the reader; it has to be pieced together from context clues, but those context clues are laden with other names. The icing on this cake is the names of the sentient races that inhabit Vokhtah. These are the Vokh, who are apparently the dominant race, though they may not be all that smart and they’re certainly homicidal. Vokhicidal? Now I’m doing it. Anyways, except during mating the Vokh will always try to kill each other. If a female Vokh gives birth, she will die doing so, so mating isn’t something that happens a lot.
How the hell did this species evolve? We’re skipping over that.
Anyways, the needs of the Vokh are seen to by…wait for it…the iVokh. Yes, that’s how it’s spelled. iVokh. I was not able to get through this book without seeing that name and immediately assuming that the protagonist was some form of Apple Product. It’s a horrible name; I have no idea what possessed A.C. Flory to do that to her readers.
Vokhtah should be split up and scattered amongst the pages of a base book for a sweet, alien RPG. It would do very well in that, where the rules of the society are being laid out for the reader and the story is just flavor text. But it should not be read for entertainment purposes; what you will get when you read it is a headache, not a happy.
I encourage A.C. Flory to write some sort of a prequel to Vokhtah. It doesn’t have to be a stranger-in-a-strange-land motif, but it has to ease us into the alien world she’s built. It has to let us see the things the iVokh have in common with humanity, so that we can form some sort of connection to her characters. I hate to see all the effort she put into building this world go to waste, but without a decently written story it will.