Review: Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo

Ship of FoolsThis book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Recent science fiction films have altered our view of what a good “aliens and spaceships” stories should contain. Audiences have grown accustomed to sweeping space battles, evil technology and advanced societies.

Richard Paul Russo’s latest novel, Ship of Fools, dares to break those conventions. This story looks inward, to the haunting vistas of human motivation.

The novel takes place on the worldship Argonos: a vast enclosed ecosystem, where generations of men and women have lived, worked, and died without ever setting foot planetside. But now Captain Nikos has received a signal from what appears to be a human colony on the planet Antioch. With 14 years since their last planetfall, he dares not ignore this opportunity.

Bartolomeo Aguilera, Nikos’ close friend and confidante, leads the Antioch exploratory mission. Upon arriving, he discovers the hideous remains of the colonists, victims of an apparent massacre. Soon after, the chamber containing the bodies sends out a signal to deep space. Curious, Nikos and Bartolomeo follow th e signal. The journey ends at an impossibly large alien spaceship, beautiful… and deadly. As Bartolomeo and his teams explore the massive interior, freak accidents begin claiming crewmen’s lives. Others experience changed personalities.

What strange powers are contained within this ship, and should they be disturbed by humankind?

Part of the novel’s power comes from its low-key tone; much of the story focuses on character interaction. Bartolomeo, the main character, sets the tone and other characters take their cue from him. Through him, readers meet the single most intriguing person in the book, Father Veronica. As a church representative, she provides a channel for readers to experience the horrors found by the Argonos’ crew.

The novel’s low-key aspects shatter shockingly at the story’s key points. Each discovery on Antioch’s surface, each accident aboard the alien ship, breaks the novel’s overall calm. As a result, the impact resonates more with readers. The aftermath of Antioch’s massacre is just the first of many such jolting experiences. ItÕs a truly horrific scene, and Russo doesn’t shy away from making readers face that horror head-on. In this, he has created a truly affecting tale that cannot leave his audience unmoved.

With the overtones of a space opera and the scope of a big-budget film, Ship of Fools promises to become a science fiction classic.