The Perihelion by D.M. Wozniak is literary, character-driven science fiction at its best. Set in 2069, The Perihelion comprises a world where there are hybrid humans with 1% animal or insect DNA, called 99ers. The novel follows the lives of six different characters in an approaching apocalypse, the Perihelion: “The point in the path of a celestial body that is nearest to the sun,” in which the world is melting down both physically and mentally. This is an epic, uniquely inventive novel about big ideas that should hopefully get a lot of attention.
An apocalyptic scenario sounds like well-trodden terrain, but it’s a testament to Wozniak’s inventiveness that his apocalypse seems like something entirely new. Six characters and a complex future-world is a lot for Wozniak to juggle as well, but he pulls it off admirably – making each character equally vibrant and their stories intersect in surprising and satisfying ways. The biotech of hybrid humans is at once fantastical and grounded in science, in the same way as Jurassic Park, but distinctly weirder, and one could say even more inventive. When you’re reading about a person’s relationship with a hummingbird, the novel has taken on the feeling of a dream, yet it still reflects a believable reality.
This is a demanding book, but in a good way. Not to say it’s difficult, but it does take a significant amount of investment due to its complexity. But it’s a fun and rewarding journey, as each new character takes you into unexpected territory. Normally, a book that virtually starts over from a new character’s perspective can feel like starting a book all over again. That is, if it’s not handled correctly, which is not the case here. Each new character builds on the last until your firmly entrenched and engrossed in the entire narrative. Wozniak has a huge amount to balance here: different voices, a strange and complicated future, while making the prose breezy enough to move like a thriller. He pulls it off.
The cumulative effect is the book seems strangely alive, as if you’re reading about real people in a real place in time, even if things are also falling apart. In a book that is about hybrid humans, the novel seems like part-cinema. Not in the sense of unfolding like a movie script, but it’s incredibly immersive. Another way to put this: The Perihelion is like virtual reality on the page. It’s a mind-bender as only sci-fi can be, and Wozniak has created an epic world that begs for a series.
Unfortunately, the cover, though nicely done for a certain type of book, isn’t really evocative of what this book is all about. Certainly, the novel veers towards the literary end of sci-fi, but sci-fi it is, and the presentation could potentially make it get lost in the cracks, which would be a shame. Additionally, the novel is at times too reliant on dialogue, and could use some paring down in certain sequences, which go on somewhat longer than necessary. Overall, this is a hidden gem that deserves to be read. It’s fanciful, but plausible – a strange, complex and rewarding read.