Review | On My Way to Paradise by Dave Wolverton

On My Way to Paradise

Sometimes the best books are found entirely by accident.

I found On My Way to Paradise almost completely by accident. Larry Correia, the author of the larger than life Monster Hunter International series posted on his blog that Dave Wolverton, an author I had never heard of, was in dire straights and needed help. Wolverton’s son had been in a longboarding accident and was in a coma. Further, Wolverton was something of a “godfather” to fiction writers in Utah (coincidentally, where I’m at), shepherding over 200 writers to publication.

All Correia asked is that folks would buy Wolverton’s latest book (preferably through a link to Amazon that would maximize Wolverton’s take).

Needless to say, I was intrigued. A local author with some renown, his son in need, and climbing medical bills? At the very least, I would help fellow human being in need, discover a new author and pick up a new book. At the most, perhaps it would even be a good book.

Allow me to insert the cliched third person omniscient foreboding here: little did I know what was in store for me.

After a modicum of research, I found myself buying not one, but three books by Wolverton (The Sum of All MenNightingale, and On My Way to Paradise, of course). After finding the first (On My Way to Paradise) sufficiently amazing after just a few chapters, I picked up another two.

I guess you could say I’m fully vested. And I haven’t even talked about On My Way to Paradise yet, have I?

Allow me.

On My Way to Paradise is Wolverton’s first novel (he also writes under the pen name David Farland), a piece of science-fiction set sometime in the not too distant future, perhaps a century or two down the road. Angelo Osic is a pharmacologist, selling his wares from a roadside kiosk somewhere in Panama when a woman tumbles out of a taxi looking for help and dragging him on an incredible journey across the distance between stars. He will flee assassins, fight for his life, and find himself a mercenary in his eighties.

Unlike so many epic sized stories, I could never tell exactly where Wolverton was taking me, and I liked it. I mean, yes, we were clearly on the way to paradise (or were we?), but Osic never set off on a quest or intentionally seemed to choose his path. As he discovered the next step, so did I, and the process kept me turning pages, not just to discover what would happen next, but even why. Because in his genius, Wolverton never really warns you. One minute Osic is escaping assassins aboard a shuttle to an orbiting station and the next moment he’s signing on to serve as a mercenary in a war on a planet twenty years away from Earth. And despite the warning that was on the back of the book (“to sign on as a mercenary with the Japanese Motoki Corporation in its genocidal war against the barbarian Yabajin.”), I could clearly say to myself: “I didn’t see that coming.”

It is, in the true sense, an adventure, not because of the excitement and danger, of which there is plenty, but because of the suspense and plot changes. Things happen, and with every page, they keep happening. Osic is an honest narrator, if only from his perspective, and Wolverton is careful to reveal no more than Osic would based on the moment in time.

On the surface, I could see in Osic’s mercenary training and fight, foreshadowing of what John Scalzi would build in Old Man’s War. In Wolverton’s universe, though, the story is an inverted parabolic fall from grace, where no kind action goes unpunished, where the hero must pass through fire before he finds heaven. Indeed, the entire story is set up as parable, a pilgrim’s progress perhaps, with Osic playing Dante as he descends to hell on his way to finding redemption.

Even the sections of the book hint at the journey. We begin in “Earth,” and when Osic escapes he boards the “Chaeron,” named not unlike the Charon of Greek mythology who would ferry the damned across the river Styx into Hell. And the final destination? Baker, an English name for a Japanese planet, perhaps after the California town that is often called the gateway to Death Valley because of its proximity.

So, in each section, we see Osic dragged, almost inexorably so, down deeper to the depths of a personal hell, all the while wondering and seeking redemption and the opportunity to escape the violence for the opportunity to seek compassion.

And the book is violent. Very much so. For a guy who starts off as a pharmacologist because he explicitly wants to help people, Osic develops a violent streak…and the why and wherefore matters, though to say much more would, indeed, prove to give away major spoilers.

Wolverton fills the book with fantastic character development and philosophy, proving once again that good science-fiction isn’t about lasers and spaceships (though they certainly don’t hurt), but about us, about humanity, and about the big questions. What is agency? What does it mean to live in a society of murderers, Osic asks more than once? What is meaning when everyone is a killer? And what does it mean to be human?

While the world around Osic is fighting over the questions of capitalism versus socialism, the holding to the past and dramatically changing for the future, Wolverton seems to posit that somethings about human nature does not change not matter the excuse or the progression of technology–its capacity for violence as well as for great compassion. I don’t often reread novels–there are just too many and my time too limited–but if I ever do, this could be a candidate for rereading. I emphasize that it would be in spite of the violence, because, and I think this is Wolverton’s intent, the violence disgusts me.

On My Way to Paradise is “older,” so to speak, but you would never notice. Published in 1989, it has weathered well, and I don’t think there’s anything about it to date it. Set in the future, Wolverton’s characters are Japanese and Hispanic and, occasionally, Arabic. Other than a brief mention about Europe, I don’t think I recall any mention of anything relating to Western European culture, including the United States. Wolverton has shifted the attention to entirely new territory, and it is refreshing and fascinating.

Overall Rating:  

Parent’s guide:

  • Sex: There is discussion, reference to a rape during battle, and Osic breaks up a rape in progress, but no description.
  • Language: There are several instances of profanity.
  • Violence:  While violence is never described in graphic detail, the book contains many violent scenes. In all cases, the violence is depicted as wrong.

Buy On My Way to Paradise   or one of these other excellent titles from other authors mentioned in this post and start reading!



About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.