Book Review: Praxis by Justin Knight

I’ve always enjoyed the “ordinary people get stuck in a horrific situation and have to survive” trope in stories. Whether it’s a disaster movie, a survival horror video game, or much of Stephen King’s ouevre, there’s something about ordinary people overcoming extraordinary circumstances that’s both entertaining and provides wonderful food for thought:

  • How would I react? What would I do?
  • What skills do I have that would be useful in a situation like this?
  • Would people work together, or turn against each other?
  • Would I have what it takes to make it?

Tales of superhumans with otherworldy abilities are always fun and have their place in my heart. But I equally enjoy seeing if the pre-school teacher or the accountant can survive the monsters that suddenly appeared in their town, or can evade the hostile army that’s invaded their nation.

And then, on the other hand, I also love classic 80s/90s action movies.

Along comes Justin Knight with his novel  Praxis. Described as “blue-collar sci-fi,” Praxis details the experience of warehouse workers from Vancouver, Canada whose company gets the contract to man the recently constructed titular space station.

Justin Knight (artist’s rendition)

Praxis focuses on Mickey Hemmings and his crew as they travel to the Praxis station with their families for a year-long stint. The station orbits Neptune at the farthest reaches of the solar system, and is meant to be a waypoint for intergalactic travel. Unfortunately, a group of hostile alien pirates fleeing justice decide to use the station to make their last stand, and the Earthlings get caught in the crossfire.

First, I love this concept: A varied cast of warehouse workers have to survive an alien invasion on a remote space station millions of miles from Earth. Though I have some plot-related questions that I didn’t see addressed–Why are there no security officers? Why doesn’t anyone have guns?–they didn’t detract from the white-knuckled action . . .

. . . when the action finally arrives.

You see, Praxis is a slow-burner. I have no problem with slow-burners, but I did notice that, according to my Kindle app, the action did not begin until 69 percent of the way through the book.

Now, Knight does something clever with all of this: He really sets the reader up to grow fond of these characters. And the competing narratives (the human’s travels to Praxis and settling in interspersed with our alien pirates being pursued by an alien police force) builds the anticipation.

And when these disparate threads collide, they make a big boom.

Perhaps the first two-thirds of the book could’ve been edited down. That’s a matter of personal preference. I actually didn’t mind the slow build-up, because what we learn mostly pays off during the action sequences. I only wish that the action-packed part of Praxis was longer, especially since the things Knight does well–the set pieces, the gruesome ways in which both humans and aliens meet their ends, the interactions between the humans and the friendly aliens, and good-old human ingenuity–he does really well.

That said, there were some plot points that didn’t pay off; there’s one character in particular whose background and checkered past we go into in great detail, but it doesn’t really impact the story.

That’s a minor nitpick. Once Praxis gets going, you’ll find yourself enjoying the hectic fight against the space pirates and the race-against-time disaster Knight throws into the mix. The energy and dialogue will remind you of a classic action movie, and one character even gives a shout-out to one of the greatest lines of all time for those of you who are paying attention.

There is one slight oddity, at least to my American ears. Knight is English, see, so he uses the conjunction “whilst” a lot. A lot. This isn’t strange in the prose, but it didn’t jibe with me in the dialogue. I’m obviously not a Canadian, but I’m pretty sure that Canadians don’t use “whilst” instead of “while.” I’m also pretty sure Canadians don’t call cookies “biscuits” or parking lots “car parks” or say “tuck in” when talking about eating some food (we say “digging in” in the Untied States, for example), but whatever. I’m getting really nitpicky  now; but then again, that’s my (self-imposed) job.

One other thing that took me out of things, and this is more of a personal stylistic preference than anything, is the use of real-word brands and companies and things in general. One school of thought is that it adds verisimilitude to the writing. Another is that it can actually be a bit jarring, reflecting more the author’s personal preferences than anything impacting the story. I’m in the latter camp, but your mileage may vary.

Knight should be proud of Praxis. It’s a fun sci-fi/survival horror adventure that maintains a certain level of lightness like the best action far of yore–no plodding, moping reluctant heroes, just regular people in a full-throttled quest for survival against a dangerous adversary. If this sounds like your bag–and honestly, if it’s not, why?–give Praxis a shot.

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