Publisher: Hot Key Books
English Edition Translated by Daniel Hahn
Publication Date – 28 June 2018
The first book in the bestselling French Phobos series is finally here. Ascension is a fun guilty pleasure read geared towards a young adult audience that explores the dark side of reality television.
In the near future, a private company has bought NASA and is about to send the first humans to Mars as part of the Genesis program. However, this will not be a typical voyage to another planet; it will be the most ambitious reality television show of all time. The international group of young astronauts has been chosen through a worldwide contest, and the entire voyage into space will be broadcast back to Earth to be viewed by the masses. Not only will these six young men and six young women colonise Mars but they will also be expected to pair up into couples by the time they reach Mars through an insane bought of speed-dating.
The boys and girls will be placed into separate bays of the same spaceship and will only be allowed to interact with the person of their choosing for six minutes each week. In these six minutes they will meet and try to seduce their counterparts and attempt to determine who their perfect match is. By the end of their trip, each of them must choose a partner to marry and live with once they reach the red planet.
For one of the contestants, Léonor, the Genesis program is her chance to escape from a planet where she has only ever experienced pain. The one-way trip is the biggest opportunity of her life and she is eager for glory and love. But as they move further away from Earth, Léonor begins to learn that this journey is far more dangerous than she had expected. A deadly conspiracy surrounds this journey and it is far too late for regrets.
Ascension is written by Victor Dixen, a French author who has contributed multiple series to the Young Adult genre. His previous works included a reimagination of classic fairy tales in the Animale series, and the science fiction based The Strange Case of Jack Spark series. Ascension is part one of his exciting Phobos series, which was first published in France back in 2015. Phobos will be the first of Dixen’s series to be translated into English, with the next two books in the series, Distortion and Collison both set to be published in English within the next year.
Ascension is a fantastic book with a lot of parts to it that make for a highly compelling and interesting read. The overarching concept of a space exploration being turned into a reality television contest is a little crazy, but Dixen has some great explanations for this plot set-up that sound actually plausible and realistic. With the current political craziness around the world and humanity’s constant fascination with reality television, you can’t help but think that this could be a distinct possibility.
Dixen is a talented author who is able to perfectly recreate the feel of a large-scale reality television show within his book, with all of the worst parts included. The male and female contestants are kept apart from each other for the whole journey and are constantly aware of the world watching them through all the cameras, and they act accordingly. Dixen shows off the various ways the producers are trying to manipulate the contestants, such as misleading messages from their host and group showings of each contestant’s ratings and accrued prize money, all in the name of creating drama. There are also a number of scenes that show large groups of people watching the show and becoming obsessed with it in a way reminiscent of the early days of Big Brother and American Idol. There are fun inclusions to show this off, such as having scenes where people back on Earth change their hairstyles and looks to match their favourite contestant, the contestants’ home countries showing massive support for them, and a fun scene where a cynic has to listen to other people gossip about the show.
While the parts of the book reminiscent of a typical reality television show are fantastic by themselves, they are taken to a whole other level when they are seen in conjunction with the backstage production meetings scenes. Reality television show production meetings are probably already fairly sinister but Dixen is really able to amp this up by showing the show’s producers and host engaged in some ominous discussions involving deaths, murder, manipulation and their own bonuses. Ascension contains a great main antagonist in Serena McBee, the host. Serena is pretty much the ultimate villain for young people, as she acts like their friend while she tries to manipulate them, thinking she knows everything about them and how to control them. All of these sinister surroundings create a compelling read that will really draw the reader in.
I have to admit that when I started to read Ascension the last thing I thought I would be interested in would be the potential relationships between the contestants. However, Dixen puts significant effort into introducing the 12 contestants and describing their personalities and histories, ensuring the reader becomes invested in their futures. While Léonor is the main character that the author focuses on, the reader is also shown many of the dating segments that the other contestants are involved with to dramatic effect. There are also a number of discussions between the female characters as they discuss their tragic histories, their hopes for the future and who their preferred partners will be. As a result, the reader does find themselves really caring about the characters becoming extremely interested in who will end up with whom.
Dixen also enhances his terrific narrative inclusions, sinister overtones and compelling character interactions with a range of useful visual elements included in the text. These include flyers for the show, tables with the results of the contestants’ prize money and survey results, and detailed technical diagrams of the spaceship and the Mars habitations. The diagrams of the ship help the readers visualise the ship and habitats, while the flyers and tables make them feel like part of the show’s audience. These elements are well used within Ascension and are a great addition to the book.
Ascension by Victor Dixen is an exciting and invigorating young adult read that can now finally be enjoyed by an English-speaking audience. Readers will love how the author has included an extremely realistic reality television setting into a dramatic science fiction story filled with all the emotion and manipulation you would expect from the trashiest of dating shows out there. This crazy and brilliant read should captivate the young adult audience of the English-speaking world, just like it did with its French-speaking audience, and I will be keeping an eye out for the next two parts of this series.