The best science fiction stories create a bridge between ambitious, precisely calculated genre concepts and the deep, emotional truths that unite us all. Keeping the balance between intricate sci-fi backdrops and delicate matters of the heart is a high-wire act that only succeeds with tremendous care, passion and narrative grace. In his debut novel, The Vanished Birds, Simon Jimenez has announced himself as a graceful, spellbinding storyteller with the gifts to pull it off.
The Vanished Birds charts, in its carefully selective way, centuries of human history and advancement, ultimately catapulting us into a future carved out of glittering corporate-run space stations and far-flung starships that zip through folds in spacetime. It’s into this future, where time is as much of a commodity as any physical good, that Jimenez drops Nia Imani, a woman whose job as captain of a time-folding ship means she’s constantly losing time. Months of travel for her mean years lost on either side of the journey, and this constant sense of detachment has left her unmoored. Then she meets a mysterious boy who fell from the sky onto a distant planet, a boy with a gift for music who could also be destined for much more. Together, they find a bond neither dreamed possible, but powerful forces also want the boy, and a struggle lies ahead.
Though Jimenez’s prose feels right at home in a universe of interstellar travel and space station settlements, The Vanished Birds soars highest when the author is navigating the complex emotional avenues through which much of this deeply human story unfolds. The book never fails to deliver the science fiction goods, and fans of high-concept leaps will be satisfied, but the book’s emotional core is what makes it fly.
The Vanished Birds strikes a breathless balance between the conceptually dazzling and the emotionally resonant, and it’s in that balance that a bright new voice in genre fiction is born.