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Review: Calypso - Oliver K. Langmead



Genre: Literary Science Fiction, Novel in Verse

Published: Titan Books, April 2024

My Rating: 3/5 stars


Calypso is a piece of experimentally penned sci-fi that I somewhat struggled with, despite the fact that I appreciated many of the ideas behind it.


The Story

Our story opens with Rochelle, a passenger on the colonyship Calypso traveling towards an exomoon coined Terra Nova, waking from cryo-sleep. Rather than the promised new world waiting for them to settle it, Rochelle finds the ship in turmoil. The majority of her fellow-passengers have perished, and the remaining few are scattered throughout the ship that has become overgrown by the tendrils of a complex, sentient forest-ecosystem. As Rochelle pieces together the events that took place during her statis, she uncovers a legacy of war and conflicting ideals and philosophies that brought the ship to its current state. As she grieves both the losses of her past and her imagined future, Rochelle must come to terms with her stance and beliefs on the matter…



What I loved:

When I say experimental sci-fi, I’m mostly referring to the very unique format, which reads more like an extended verse than a traditional novel. Throughout the story, we follow 4 distinct POV’s: our protagonists Rochelle, botanist/biologists Catherine, engineer Arthur and a man solely known as The Herald. Each of their POV’s is told in distinctly different formatting, playing with rhyme, meter and positioning of words on the page. All that is enhanced by beautiful illustrations at every POV-switch, which I enjoyed in the ARC-format, but I’m sure will be even more beautiful in the finished (printed) copy.


Part puzzle, part poem, part philosophical musing, the joy of Calypso is in the journey, so I won’t spell out the themes and discussions it engages with in too much detail here. In broad terms, think a lot of the classics of space-faring-sci-fi: nature-vs-technology, religion and ethics, the meaning of “being human”, and the contemplation of time and distance through memory. That last part provided some of my favourite moments in Calypso as Rochelle thinks back on her past on Earth and the family she left behind, who she knew would be dead for decades before she would even wake from cryosleep.



What I didn’t love:

Two points of critique stand out to me after finishing Calypso. First and foremost was how much I struggled with the non-traditional format. This isn’t an easy book to read, and it’s intentionally so. It’s very much on the literary- and experimental side of sci-fi and it requires you to indulge it a lot when it comes to just exploring ideas. In other words: this will alienate a lot of readers that would prefer a simpler and more straightforward narrative. Which brings me to my second point.

Although I’m personally okay with putting in the effort with a more experimental style, there does need to be an exceptional pay-off at the end. I was a bit let down on that end. In taking on all the Great Themes of Space-scifi, I felt like I didn’t gain any new ideas from this book itself. The discussions on hand all felt like I’ve read them before, and the format didn’t click with me personally in a way that added to that experience.


Your mileage may vary with this one. If you’re in the market for an ambitious, experimental novel with a focus on ideas rather than plot, this might be the perfect fit for you. Looking for a more traditional space-romp? Perhapse consider looking elsewhere...



Many thanks to Titan Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Find this book here on Goodreads.

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