To Die Well (my translation, original title: Att dö väl) is the result of an interesting collaboration between Swedish science-fiction writers Eva Holmquist and Oskar Källner. On the Steampunk Festival in Gävle 2014 (Swecon) they asked people to tell them how they would like to die in a science-fiction story. ”Let us kill you!” was the tagline, and the two winners got what they bargained for.
As a consequence, the outcome of the story isn’t exactly surprising. Mankind is on the brink of doom (when are we not?). The alien grendel race is advancing on the human world, which consists not only of Earth, but also of several colonies on other planets. Whatever humanity throws at the grendels, they keep on coming, utilizing an unknown capacity to jump through hyperspace. The protagonists Hanna and Alina (tragically doomed to die) are drafted into the fight in a last desperate attempt to stop the invasion.
The background is well constructed, with credible science and environments and Holmquist and Källner manage to keep the suspense up in spite of the (almost) obvious ending. Some elements are difficult to understand, as is often the case in genre-literature; especially the focusing of an intergalactic war of extinction on only a handful of individuals is something that I never liked, it feels implausible, though it is a handy dramaturgic effect. To Die Well largely belongs to the sub-genre of ”military science fiction”, the concept not drifting far from the ”Starship Troopers”-cluster. As a story it isn’t very interesting, the stones it turns has been turned before, but as an experiment in reader-writer interaction it’s pretty cool.
Stylistically it should have gone through a careful editors hand, but even without that Holmquist and Källner keep a fairly consistent and credible language. The name of the alien race, the grendel, and their various ships (Jötun, among others) all draw their inspiration from old norse mythology, which is fun for a Nordic reader and possibly exotic for a foreigner.
My only real objection is the end, or rather, the post-end, the Epilogue, which feels contrived. I suppose it’s a matter of giving the reader an answer to the inevitable question: Did they win the war? But I don’t think the answer given is satisfying at all. As is often the case, the end should have been the end.
Recommended for everyone who loves doomsday scenarios and interstellar action.