Travel Documents 47: The Psions of Spire Series

The Psions of Spire Series

Alex Silver

 

Genre: dystopian, LGBT, alt-h, alt-history

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The Dust Cover Copy

Global exposure to an unknown mutagen set off the divergence. It activated psion genes en masse. Many older people had the psion trait, but the genes were inactive until exposure. They lacked the neural plasticity to survive emergence.

People dubbed it Psi-Plague. Now those born with the psion trait undergo emergence when the genes become active around puberty. No further trigger needed.

Several decades later, society has re-formed around the existence of a new class of humanity: the psions. They’ve become a new subculture and a new group to be discriminated against: denied housing, job prospects, and basic human dignity.

This series chronicles the lives of psions as they fight for their human rights, find love, and follow their dreams as best they can.

 

The Deets

The Scene

Worldbuilding

In the tradition of all good alt-history worlds, Silver has done a lovely job of putting in just enough strangeness to make us question our daily existence. ‘Because that’s the way it is’ suddenly doesn’t seem like a good enough answer when you see systemic oppression through the eyes of young people trying so hard to survive under it. ‘Let the system work’ sounds good, until you’re allowed to see the world through the eyes of those it’s worked on.

But hey, don’t let my preaching get you down. Though a strong social message does run through this series, at its heart this is the story of young people finding themselves, healing their wounds, and helping one another come into their own. It’s a braided narrative of hope and resilience, love in its many forms, and the quiet bravery of living your truth in spite of a world that would like to force you into submission. I love the series because it’s not a sweeping drama of street battles and all out war. It’s not that easy. This is the story of the hard work each person has to put in to come into their own in the world that we didn’t build, and we have to quietly work to reshape in every way we can. Some people do that by taking jobs at SPIRE, the governmental agency that oversees psions, and pushing for change from within. They blow whistles. They risk futures. And they protect people.
Others choose the rocky road of activists. They’re picketing. They’re organizing. They’re hustling. And they’re keeping the rights of their fellow citizens secure.

And then there are the stories of people just trying to make rent. Get jobs. Get through the day. Readers feel that these could be our stories.

The Crowd

Characterization

Silver has a talent for writing intertwined lives, connected to one another by platonic or romantic love of all sorts. The personalities (and the identities! 😀 ) vary widely, from the nearly feral and catlike Marc, gentle and brittle Elliot, to stalwart Em and goofy, carefree Jake. Each of these characters has their own reactions, their own journeys, their own joys and their own weaknesses to overcome.

Early in the series many of the characters are high-schoolers, and Silver was true to the age group, showcasing just how utterly foolish we could all be at that age. As a reader, you sometimes found yourself facepalming on account of it. Not because the writing was bad, mind you. Because it was accurate, and teenagers are dense. But that early frustration made the chance to watch the characters mature and come into their own all the more rewarding.

This series showcases a number of LGBT identities and relationships. It could have felt tokenizing, if the author hadn’t worked so hard to showcase the intricacies of each relationship. Each book is full of small relational details, little compromises, and small ways people help their partners cope with their issues. Layered on real-world emotional issues are the particular needs of psions: the psychological need for touch, the strong reactions to EM fields (auras) and the physical need for others who are compatible on a purely autonomic level. These layers needs and the ways they’re coped with made these people real on the page.

I’ve particularly appreciated the tapestry of relationships Silver has woven between the characters as they age. The newest book showcases a character who originally was shown as a vulnerable teen in need of protection from older members of the cast. Watching a character like that come into their own makes you feel like a proud older mentor, and it’s delightful. Other characters have healed through their romances, through their friendships, and through their ties to their community. All of it feels tangible.

The Lingo

Writing Style

With the occasional little hiccup of indie editing (generally negligible), this series moves at the steady clip of good interpersonal stories. Making several of the characters workers in some form of mentorship was a great technique, as it has allowed exposition necessary to this kind of alt-history environment to be framed as lessons in the classroom, which is very effective.

Once in a while, I would have liked to get a little more showing and a little less telling, but the story style is narrative first-person, so the occasional stated event isn’t too much of a problem.

Oh, and by the way. There are sweet sex scenes of several varieties waiting for you like the prizes in a box of cracker jacks. Yum…

The Moves

Plot

Very interpersonal in style, these stories are nearly literary in their tone. That works well for me; if it’s up your alley, you’ll definitely enjoy these works. There’s a general arc towards improvement through each book, and if each ending isn’t perfectly happy, it is definitely looking towards a brighter day ahead.

Overall Rating

A wonderfully diverse, beautifully conflicted and powerfully connected series. It’s now one of my comfort reads.