The Babylon Eye by Masha du Toit (first published independently in 2016)
I’ve always been a sci-fi nerd. I fell head-over-heels in love with Star Trek as a teen, had a brief and intense romance with Babylon 5 and slept beside Asimov (The Complete Stories, Vol 1) for over a fortnight before the school library forced us to part ways.
So you can imagine my delight when I discovered one of my favourite South African authors was publishing a new series of science fiction books set on a space station between realities.
The Babylon Eye, the first in this series, centres around the middle-aged Elke. She’s been serving a prison sentence for “eco terrorism” (read: killing poachers) in a future alternate Cape Town. Prior to her incarceration, she was an expert at training cybernetically-enhanced dogs.
Now one is lost in the station between the human reality and an alien reality and she is given an offer: win her freedom by finding it.
Of course, things become infinitely more complicated as soon as Elke sets foot on the station itself. For one thing, the station only sometimes has electricity. The rest of the time, it’s basically steampunk. For another: some people want her (and the dog) dead.
You can tell from the writing that du Toit really loves dogs. Such tenderness and attention to detail is given to the dog’s point of view and you come to really care about her fate.
Elke is a lovely atypical heroin, filled with the complexities of someone who’s made terrible mistakes in the past and has lived to regret them. She’s both soft, and hard and so very human.
I also loved the South African flair. In this Cape Town that du Toit has created, Prussia is a world power and corporations control mostly everything.
Yet, there’s still a lot of our South Africa that leaks through, from the way the characters speak, to the names of people and things.
And in terms of people, there’s a full cast of vibrant characters that you get to know, and want to see more of.
This book appealed to the part of me that loves old-school science fiction about space stations and political intrigue, before everything became about action and Hollywood-style romance.
It’s a story with real heart for people who like being whisked away to imaginative new universes.