The Circus Infinite
By Khan Wong
- The Circus Infinite
Author: Khan Wong
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
- ISBN: 9780857669681
- Published: March 2022
- Format reviewed: E-Book
- Review date: 06/03/2022
- Language: English
There is something magical about the idea of a circus, the lights, the action, the antics, and the acts. The reality in my youth was a little different with a threadbare tent being erected in a local muddy play field. Khan Wong has thankfully decided to capture the majesty that the idea evokes in The Circus Infinite, a book that has all the drama of a traveller's tale but set in the expanse of space.
Jes is on the run from the Institute, a shadowy location he had spent years incarcerated in. He flees to a pleasure moon to blend in with the eclectic entities found there. He is drawn to the circus and soon finds himself a role in the crew. However, his past has followed him even this far into the stars. He is forced to use his powers, sometimes for good and sometimes for evil. Can Jes protect himself and his new family at the Circus Infinite?
The best science fiction is both alien and familiar at the same time. Wong captures this balance perfectly in Circus. There is a true sense of the alien in the book where nine varieties of species exist in some type of harmony across the known planets, but the personal relationships of the performers feel very real. The pleasure moon is one place were all can mingle and that includes those considered to be hybrids like Jes. He is part human and part alien. This manifests, in his case, in unique powers.
One of the threads of the book is the concept of prejudice. Jes has faced forms of it all his life, even his own parents sold him to be experimented upon. When he discovers the various circus members, he suddenly finds himself with a true family who except him for who he is. I would have been happy just reading about Jes and his new allies putting on shows and developing their friendship, it is a joyous part of the book. But there is also a darkness that adds shade to the story.
There are those who would use Jes’ powers for influence or wish to sell him back to the Institute. One local businessperson blackmails Jes to use his abilities for unspeakable acts. It can be difficult to see Jes suffering so, but it really adds depth to the story and the tension increases as the book unfolds. You never know when treachery may occur.
Another interesting angle in the book is Jes’ relationship with the acrobat Bo. This is handled sensitively and has a realistic feel to it, even though this is an alien couple. How Wong handles all the interactions between the unusual species is done expertly. Some integrate while others remain aloof. Cultures clash, but they work alongside one another. Like good science fiction should, it reflects on our own world, if you choose to see it that way, or just read the book as a piece of science fiction fantasy.
Although Jes is the heart of Circus it feels like an ensemble piece. Set in space, it remains true to classic Circus stories such as The Greatest Show on Earth or The Greatest Showman. The sense of a community of others who have found a common goal and friendship among one other. Witnessing Jes’ acceptance into this culture and then flourishing is a wonderful read. The action and tension only add to a fun and magical science fiction story.
Written on 6th March 2022 by Sam Tyler .