Saga : sa·ga /ˈsägə/
A long, involved story, account, or series of incidents.
I start my review with that definition of saga because it is a fitting definition for The Biomass Revolution. I wasn't sure what to expect when I was given a review copy of this book. Although I very much enjoy post-apocalyptic stories, dystopia is not my general stomping grounds. I am more of a Utopian reader - a Bradbury and Huxley cono sur, where the book involves a perfect society that is brought to its knees when the cracks start to show and the main character opens his/her eyes. Dystopia has the same basic principles, but it deals with a darker, grittier society, often with a dual standard of living in which the privileged few live protected from the destitute masses.
Most of the books that I read from the before mentioned genres tend to be one-offs, typically under 250 pages and focus on the experiences and perspectives of one person or group. Bernard in Brave New World, Guy in Fahrenheit 451, Ish in The Earth Abides, Equality 7-2521 in Anthem, the old man in The Old Man in the Wasteland... you get the point, I hope? It is one focus, one viewpoint, one stance on matters. Books in this genre also typically focus on one center of conflict - Man against the "State" or Man against "The Military" or Man against "Nature". Rarely do any of these books combine or encompass more than one side and/or center of conflict. Such a work that tries to give many different view points, combine many different stories and show more than one center of conflict would be classified as a saga.
Which brings us back to The Biomass Wars, because it is a post-apocalyptic dystopian saga, the likes of which I have never read before. I think Seed by Rob Zieger (one of my all time favorite post-apocalyptic dystopian books) is close when it comes to sagaesque qualities, but Sansbury has his own style and flow that makes it unique. There were times when reading Biomass that I felt like I was reading a mixture of Huxley and Bradbury, and I even started renaming Sansbury as Huxlebury, but then you would turn the page and there would be a darker, grittier undertone that reminded me of Ziegler or a storytelling and informational reflection that had touches of Halderman. In the end, Sansbury's style is an eclectic mix that is all his own.
And I think this style might be the first hurdle for The Biomass Wars. It is a saga. There is nothing light and airy about this book and it is not something most readers will be able to sit down and read in one go, one weekend or possibly even one week. There is a weight to this book. Every page feels laden with details, story, action, characters or, more often than not, a mix of all those together.
The opening grabs you. The next chapters compel you forward and then you are shifted into the meat of the book that uses various different viewpoints to tell the full story. In many books, this can be a problem because the reader may feel lost or uncertain. Sansbury solves this by starting each shift with a time and location stamp - much like a journal. It felt a bit like when you are watching a movie, the scene transitions and along the bottom of the screen in the lower right there is a note superimposed on the screen about the date, time and location. This is necessary and was a good idea on Sansbury's part. I never once felt lost. Sometimes I felt abandoned when the story would shift away from my favorite storylines or characters, but never lost.
Multi-layered, parallel storylines - another facet of a saga that The Biomass Wars has, and it might be, unfortunately, another hurdle for certain readers who prefer single-story / single character(s) focus. The book begins with a large focus on Spurious, a worker for the State in the last bastion of civilization after a nuclear war. Slowly, this focus on Spurious is interrupted by the introduction of the TDU anti-State rebel fighters who are battling from the outside. There main intersecting viewpoint from the TDU, includes Obi, who is somewhat of a veteran fighter in the TDU, and the viewpoints of his squad members. On the flipside, you are also given viewpoints from within the State through its political leadership as well as from the rank of its military protection elite, fighters known as Knights.
Both sides are fully explored and also justified. Even though it is clear that you are meant to be rooting for Spurious and the TDU, you are given glimpses into the believable and understandable reasoning behind the State's actions and policies regarding Biomass, the protected city, the refusal to help outsiders and its control over its citizens. The world is still recovering after a nuclear holocaust, so a State wanting to be self-protectionist and xenophobic is not at all a hard concept to find plausible. I appreciated this lack of completely vilifying the State.
The TDU are not all good guys fighting the good fight, either. They make decisions that are questionable, put innocent people at risk, end up killing innocent people and find justification for their own actions and those sacrifices with their own set of ideals and beliefs that balance against the opposing State. In many cases, the TDU members are people trying to survive in a harsh reality and who have no problem killing a State worker to steal his truck of food.
There is no black and white in Sansbury's saga. There is no good or evil and no one, altruistic ideal or group you can fully support without questioning your own values, and in the middle of all of this is Spurious who finds himself questioning everything and trying to find a clear path where none exists. Spurious is the heart of man in this story. He struggles to come to terms with his shifting ideals, the unexpected pull of love, loss, bitterness and a burning desire for change. He is grasping for an understanding of what any of it - the struggle, the fighting, the death and the Biomass - is worth.
The Biomass Wars is recommended for readers looking for a fully fleshed out story that cannot be consumed in one night and may leave you questioning the grey lines in your own reality and what the true value and definition of freedom is.