Beyond the Surface by Matt Hebert

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Beyond the Surface 
Matt Hebert 
2018 

♦♦♦
3.5 Stars

 

We are a readership demanding ongoing fiction. That is, we expect fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, romance, and even more and more often literary fictions to novels belonging to extended series. We see this trend also manifest itself in our encountering with other media such as film. Certain genres of course have a symbiotic relationship with this kind of storytelling expecting novels to be read cinematically and for cinema to possess a certain bookish feel. As with anything, the success of this depends on the story being told and less on how the story is told.

Speculative fiction always faces an issue when it finally moves towards its end. At a certain point, loyal readers want to experience the story’s completion but may also be experiencing fatigue. Thus, there’s a lot on an author when they approach the final installment of their arc. Too many very popular series have effectively run out of steam by the time their denouement comes around leaving readers with essentially half-hearted works of tying up loose ends where it is clear the author is no longer interested in the story (the final Hunger Games book fits squarely in this category). 

Once again, Matt Hebert in his conclusion to his Surface series, Beyond the Surface, avoid the pitfalls mentioned delivering a both organic and satisfying ending. Beyond the Surface continues the social and political intricacies of the previous two novels but now out protagonists Sembado 

sembado

and Kaluna are adapt at navigating the factionalism and fanaticism dominating Hebert’s dystopian world.

kaluna

While Breaking the Surface was predominately action, Beyond the Surface is a novel of consequences and resolve. But make no mistake, Hebert continues to write a compelling action adventure series. 

Beyond the Surface throws readers alongside Sembado and Kaluna as they negotiate creating a new life outside the oceans. In what was once southern California, the two are caught between refugees from the deep and the fanatical Stewards, a group obsessed with ecological balance. The Stewards much like the Elephants, the secret society of book one, live by a code that is a bizarre and intense mixture of authoritarianism and personal freedom. Whereas in the first novel we saw a group of rebels blowback against a government set on controlling the masses through a kind of sedation most reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in this third novel we get a communitarian government still ideologically bent on control only now open about it and based around austerity.

The Stewards are a perfect example of over-correction. Their mantra of extreme sustainability is implacable and when it is tested by the arrival of thousands from the deep ocean there is inevitable conflict. In this way, Hebert has written an interesting series to include in the recent cli-fi trend (climate fiction). What we see here is a dovetailing of climate stress and cultural resources echoing man-made catastrophes like the Syrian immigration crises. The gift that Hebert has in his prose is that this science fiction isn’t written to mirror current events but as a cautionary tale.

In their struggle to achieve freedom, an abstraction neither Sembado nor Kaluna ever really define for themselves, our protagonists seem to be marching through a who’s who of dictatorial regimes. And while the two are genuinely hopeful whenever they encounter a new or, rather, fresh take on community seeing the good each does in both the long and short term, they soon discover there is always a malignancy just under the surface, if you will.

Once again, Hebert has written his characters well as they display loyalty and understanding between and with each other that can only come from time spent together. To see genuine character growth in fantasy is rare. Rarer still is when an author is able to slip into there characters the old habits of thought and wishful tendencies making the individuals unique. Hebert accomplishes this by focusing our attention on Sembado and Kaluna letting their actions and reactions tell the story yet creating a solid bookend to the series. The surface series is a tight, well-crafted science fiction adventure series loaded with just enough ‘what ifs’ to be engaging without getting lost in its own mythos. Beyond the Surface provides readers with characters whose clashing and eventually complimenting viewpoints make for the story’s action. It is good end to a solid series.

About the Author

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Matt Hebert, an architectural engineering graduate of the University of Nebraska, lives in Omaha with his wife, Gabriella, and their two dogs. Matt first realized his love of writing fiction at age five when he would use his family’s Smith-Corona Word Processor to create characters and worlds to share with others. Through interests and hobbies including chicken keeping and carpentry his passion for writing has never wavered. Matt started Beneath the Surface in 2004, during his junior year at Bellevue West High School where he pulled inspiration from the unique architecture and surroundings.

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