“The Doors You Mark Are Your Own” by Okla Elliot and Raul Clement

the doors you mark9781940430201_69b57Okla Elliot and Raul Clement do not sleep.

In addition to their individual writing projects, editing work, and respective day jobs, they coauthored The Doors You Mark Are Your Own–the first novel of a planned trilogy. This means they’ve also had to discuss, diagram, or otherwise account for plot points and narrative arcs in the two forthcoming installments. Like I said, I’m pretty sure they don’t sleep. They may have also learned to photosynthesize to avoid taking time away from writing for things like calories and vitamins.

Whatever sacrifices they’ve made and the uncountable hours of work they’ve spent hunched over computer keyboards came to fruition on April 28, 2015 upon the general print release for the book. This thing is a brick, and every page counts. It is a retrofuturist, Soviet noir, old-school sci fi novel that, if I may heap even more adjectives onto the pile, is complex in the tradition of classic Russian literature while reading as very steampunk in much of its aesthetic detail. When you were in high school, did your teachers encourage you to make character maps when you read Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov? Did you need to consult it several times thinking, “Wait, who is Smerdyakov again?” You might want to think about making one of those maps again for The Doors You Mark Are Your Own.

This may sound like a warning against the book–it is not. It’s an invitation to take your time reading it. This is some of the deepest, most multi-faceted science fiction I’ve ever read. At a time when much of the genre relies on crib notes from Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and Star Trek fan fic, it sets itself apart by borrowing from completely different literary traditions. While enough hallmarks of the genre are present to place it solidly within sci fi, these characters don’t have cyber-anything, aren’t planet-hopping, and simply do not require the laws of robotics. What’s more, readers see immediately that their apocalypse happened so long ago that it’s lapsed into myth. Nobody is rebuilding society from the ashes of anything–the world of this novel contains only well-developed societies playing the sort of high-stakes power games we can recognize from our own recent history. This reader detects some Scalzi/Heinlein influence within the battle saga elements of the book, but it’s far more than a lengthy paean to the literary equivalents of tabletop gaming.

It’s hard to explain the true depth of the world Elliot and Clement have created without spoiling plot points, but take as an example one main setting, the college campus. Here, readers find a lens looking onto both a particular campus culture and the larger culture of Joshua City. We get an idea of the city at war and the city at peace, as well as some of the machinations responsible for that transition. Several important characters criss-cross paths here or pick up threads into one another’s lives in ways that carry weight later on in the novel. We glimpse other city-states, other cultural traditions, and other times through this lens. You must, however, take a good long stare through it to properly see the many complicated layers. Quick glimpses as you rush through denser sections will pretty much guarantee you’ll be hopelessly confused before you get to the best parts.

If it sounds like a formidable read, just imagine what it took to write this. Then remember there are two more coming. The authors of this book put no small amount of time and effort into it, and so must the reader. It’s a fascinating and fun read, but it requires commitment. This book is not a one-night stand with an explosion or new creature on every page. It’s the kind of book you take home to mother (partly to help you explain why your worldview has suddenly changed).

The Doors You Mark Are Your Own by Okla Elliot and Raul Clement (Curbside Splendor Publishing | 9781940430201 | April 28, 2015)


Betty Scott

Erstwhile bookseller Betty Scott lives in the Chicago area and has a serious cinema habit. When not reading or watching movies, she writes reviews, poetry, and fiction.