Sphinx Daybreak
by Robert Wilfred Franson

Review by
Daniel Ludwig

  
225,000 words; 604 pages
Kindle; Apple Books; KDP Print: 2018

June 2018

  
Sphinx Daybreak - Lawrence Alma-Tadema cover painting A pre-publication review

Some prefatory notes here by the author of Sphinx Daybreak.

Among my preliminary readers I wanted someone whom I knew well; was intelligent, willing, and capable of providing thoughtful feedback on an essentially-complete draft novel; and was a science fiction fan but who had not yet read The Shadow of the Ship, so could approach this novel without background knowledge from elsewhere. Daniel Ludwig was a fine choice, as you shall see.

The section headings below were framed as a list of questions by me, aspects of the essentially-complete draft to which I wanted particular attention paid. Overview concerns, somewhat different from the work-in-progress concerns for which I'd asked other (very helpful) preliminary readers on earlier drafts which were less complete and less tidy.

A few key points have been censored by the Central Committee for Suppressing Plot Spoilers. I trust that the information that is revealed is more intriguing than otherwise.

As the reviewer anticipates, we may hope that many hints and curiosities indeed will be answered, or developed further, in subsequent novels. — RWF

  


  

Feedback on the final draft

In all, I really did enjoy it quite a bit! I like the world that you put together, layered over the early 20th Century as a backdrop. It's not a sort of science fiction I'm typically used to, and I was rather pleasantly surprised going into the book. I'll start with the list, simply to keep my thoughts organized:
  

Clarity

By-and-large, I understood what was going on for the vast majority of the novel, and was able to grasp the contents. There were odd terms, metaphysical concepts, and unseen locations introduced early on, but they were later clarified or at least handled in ways that context shed some light on their nature. Certain bits and pieces were never explicitly clarified, but they were used in enough scenes to where you got a feel of their properties. Things like "byspatial folds", the notion of "fieldwool" as a wonder-material with only partially-understood properties, and other basic concepts of the fictional Rodasi physics model were, I thought, well balanced with enough fuzziness and consistency to where I was curious about how they'd be used in the plot later, and could be pleasantly surprised by future developments. As a quick note, I loved Deadman Gate and the Meadow. As a location, I thought it was very eerie and otherworldly, and I appreciated the way it was handled and the interesting rules under which it operated. I also very much enjoyed Bloodswaying as a sort of auto-hypnotic control over the body — that's a great idea and I'd love to see more of it, especially after catching a glimpse of the unusual powers and body-modifications it enabled in this first book.

I appreciated that the characters never used the "as you know" bit of lazy writing for exposition, explaining concepts needlessly, until they would later be realistically discussed or demonstrated. Almost every foreign concept was clarified in time, and I could be patient and rewarded for waiting as a reader. That said, there was one exception in my case, and it may actually be simply me misreading or being impatient: Rheinallt's Radiant Project took a very long time to clarify.

Of all the concepts and places name-dropped in the book, Outraire was the one that confused me for the longest time — most terms were elucidated quickly enough, but I did find myself wondering for some time if I had missed some mention of what Outraire actually was. It wasn't until much later in the book (when they visit Breathers Outfall) that I started to get a grasp for what this new frontier actually represented. While this isn't really a big deal in retrospect, I did find part of my read a little confused, as I wracked my brain thinking I'd not understood, especially since it represented such an important part of Rheinallt's motivation.

Aside from that, I felt I had a working grasp of the internal physical logic of the world you created by the end of it, with no real loose ends.
  

Reasonable on its own terms

In short, yes. I can handle fantastical science fiction, and as long as the audience is willing to accept a bit of fuzziness and the vagaries that come with the concept of poorly-understood ancient technology, I don't think there's much to really harm the internal consistency of what was depicted in the book. It's ripe for even more interesting world-building in the future, as well.
  

Characters

I think some characters resonated more than others. Rheinallt himself, the "steady dreamer", was very wise and well-liked by those around him. Oddly enough, he was a tad less interesting than most of those he surrounded himself with. I think he was a perfectly serviceable (and at times intriguing and visionary) protagonist, but as our viewpoint character he seemed rather clean and tidy, generally reasonable, and seldom flawed in a way that would lead to significant interpersonal conflict (except with his ideological rivals). Every challenge presented was generally driven solely by outside forces, and handled by his cleverness or leadership, with few lasting setbacks. I rarely got to see how Rheinallt would handle abject failure or defeat.

That may have come out a little more negative than I intended — I think, by-and-large, I did still enjoy him as a character, and I do need to keep in mind that he has centuries of experience and learning under his belt, and as such it isn't really all that unreasonable to see the man at the height of his abilities. I think the fact that he also managed to have romantic entanglements (past and present) with most of the memorable female characters also made me a bit leery of just how remarkably successful he was. His heroic consistency made him, at first glance, seem a little flat, though I found myself appreciating him more by the end of the story. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how he'll handle the upcoming challenges in new frontiers, even if he didn't quite grab me at first glance.

I did very much enjoy the supporting cast! They served their purposes, and were distinct. Even characters who only appeared for a few brief scenes (like Candrahasa) were given distinct backgrounds and voices, enough to set them apart and have me build a mental picture of them. Of the main duo, Arahant was my favorite, with his feline pride, his occasional bluntness and aggression, his interest in theatre, and his chemistry with Rheinallt. I wish I could go into greater detail about all that I loved of the secondary cast, but that would take some time. In general, there was almost never a moment of me seeing a name and not being able to attach a distinctive image to that character. All of them would be excellent to see further developed in any sequels, especially those who didn't get as much focus, like Vanderdecken and Andy Zhang.

As for the antagonists, I felt that most of the secondary ones (Cyrus Longhill in particular) didn't really get to shine as much as I was expecting upon their introduction. We get a sense of their ambitions, but I think the fact that they were [spoiler omitted] precludes them being active antagonists with their own goals. This is a pretty minor problem, honestly, and it didn't bother me so much, though I do hope to see what men like Cyrus and his ilk might do in the time after the end of the Long Day.

[Major spoiler of character revelation, plot development, and climax logic omitted, unfortunately. I really liked the reviewer's grasp and appreciation of motivational subtleties here. — RWF]

I found myself initially surprised that Dasyami would wait so long to spoonfeed her allies the needed information, and this concern wasn't really satisfied until many chapters later, when Arahant asks her at the symposium about her reticence. Maybe if he had questioned far sooner why the Sultana waited so many years to tell the Luftmenschen about the looming threat of the Sphinx, it would have cleared up some early confusion I had about a general lack of urgency towards a world-threatening problem. That said, as with my other qualms, this was mostly cleared up by the end of the novel, once we get some more explanation about the nature of her Rodasi Commission.

[Climax spoiler omitted, naturally]... but I still enjoyed seeing it ultimately come together. I liked the personal confrontation between [... one last time, spoiler omitted].

My initial concerns in mind, I was still really quite pleased with the entire cast by the end, even the ones I had any misgivings about. If I had any criticism or complaints, I hope I haven't overstated them.
  

Consistency and continuity

I really can't come up with any major concerns in this regard — I thought you had airtight continuity and consistency within the story.
  

Typos and mechanical errors

I did run into some of these, and I'll list as many as I caught. [Omitted here.] There were far fewer in the second half than the first, almost none at all that I could see.
  

  

I hope that all of the feedback was helpful! I'm excited to see the final draft make its way to full release, and I'm glad to have you trust me with the early read. Please let me know if there's anything else I can do, I really did enjoy it a great deal!

  

© 2018 Daniel Ludwig


  
Cover painting:
"A Coign of Vantage"
by Lawrence Alma-Tadema
1895

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