The Limitless Sky
The Limitless Sky
From down the street, I can see the Fixers set up outside our door, repairing the sky.
“It’s about time,” I complain.
“Are they finally replacing the piece that hit Sparrow?” Ruby asks.
I nod and we stop at her corner to watch the figures working in the distance. One of them is at the top of the scaffolding with a trowel. Two others are on the ground bent over buckets, mixing plasterflex and paint.
“When was that? Two weeks ago and they still haven’t fixed it.” I hear the outrage in Ruby’s voice.
“The Fixers didn’t even contact us to apologize for almost killing a child. You should have seen the bruise on her back.”
“It’s inexcusable, Rook! They shouldn’t have let it get to that point of disrepair. What if other pieces started falling off. Your mam should submit a formal complaint. That’s the only way to get things done,”
Her face is flushed with indignation, and I can tell by the way she’s twirling the strap of her personal messenger that she’s ready for a fight. She loves rules and to make sure people follow them. She’ll be a perfect Governor one day.
Gage rolls over in his sleep, then is suddenly awake. His eyelids fly open without him even willing them to and his dream falls away, leaving only fragments of images.
He rubs his eyes and peers out through the door flap, where he sees the sky lightening in the east. The edges of the sky, just above the horizon, are pink and orange but fade to ever-changing shades of blue where the sky domes. Rays of the sun reflect yellow on the undersides of the frothy clouds. Gage loves this time of day, when his family is still asleep and the warmth of his quilt lays heavy over his shoulders, the smell of last night’s meal has faded, and the sting of crisp air seeps in from outside and chills his face.
Beyond the cluster of yurts that form the heart of the scouts’ base camp, Gage hears the goats bleating in their pens, their bells jangling in anticipation of breakfast.
In a note to the reader that appears in the ARC of The Limitless Sky, author Kilbourne acknowledges that her SF novel will likely be categorized as dystopian fiction, but she argues (correctly, I believe) that it should really be considered as post-dystopian in that the two societies readers will encounter in the book have both survived a global climate catastrophe and have, as we in the Covid Era would say, achieved a new normal.
In The Limitless Sky, readers, via alternating chapters that generally conclude with cliffhangers, meet two teenagers in the year 2761 OT (think AD). Rook, a girl living in ArHK (the what, why and where of ArHK all being questions to be answered) speaks in the first person while Gage’s story of becoming a “scout” is narrated in the third person. Gage resides in what he refers to as the Middle, a location the book’s readers might think of as being somewhere in a climate reconfigured America. Both teens are on the cusp of a transition point in their lives as Rook is apprenticing to become the next Head Keeper of the Archives and monitor of the Great Hall of Human Knowledge, positions presently held by her “da”. Gage’s world appears to be preindustrial, and he is part of a group that has been sent out “to enter the old cities and collect artifacts, uncover lost knowledge.” Though technically too young to be a scout, Gage, because of his ability to read, finds himself included in a scouting party seeking to locate the “ancient” city of Washington which is rumored to contain clues to the whereabouts of the Ship of Knowledge.
Kilbourne’s worldbuilding is strong, especially that of ArHK, current population 5028, which is a four level enclosed structure that is divided into sectors according to their functions, such as Health, Growing, Knowledge, Manufacturing and Waste Management. Because ArHK’s “sky” is artificial, the community has developed its own calendar using base 10: two 10 hour cycles per day, 10 days in a week, 10 weeks in a month and 10 months in a year. Because of Rook’s future archivist role, she has learned how to convert ArHK time to Outside Time, aka OT, despite the fact that there has been no contact between ArHK and the Outside World in more than 200 OT years.
While Rook’s environment is quite constrained, Gage’s world is truly that of the limitless sky. In the centuries that have passed since the Storm Ages, nature has reclaimed the built-up spaces once occupied by humans. Readers travel with Rook through this verdant wilderness as he and his older companions ultimately locate the remains of Washington and accidentally connect with ArHK.
About a third of the way through the book, Rook’s curiosity (and that of readers) about ArHK’s origins is partly satisfied through her discovery in the archives of a 2251 OT document, written by the then president of the USA, which says, in part:
For the past twenty years, the United Nations has been working to ensure the survival of humankind, no matter what catastrophes lay ahead. With the co-operation of each and every country on this planet, we have created a facility built to house our collective human intellectual resources.
The Archives of Human Knowledge has been constructed in a remote, secure, and highly classified location – in short a secret location....Secrecy is of the utmost importance, It will guarantee the survival of the information kept there, as well as the survival of the people chosen to protect humankind’s most precious resources, come what may. We hope the location of ArHK will remain a secret for many generations to come.
Along with Rook, readers also learn that ArHK, as constructed, “has the capacity to house 2500 citizens” and that the family units selected to populate ArHK were chosen on the basis of their ability to meet one of ArHK’s long-term needs.
However, it is Rook’s curiosity and her continued snooping in the archives that drives the book’s action as the Governor class, in particular Governor Hawk, wants the origins of ArHK to remain buried as this hereditary ruling class exercises ever increasing control over ArHK’s citizenry. For Rook, everything comes to a head when Gage literally falls into a Washington building that houses a still functioning electronic communication link between ArHK and the Outside and he makes contact with her, an event which forces the Governors to take punitive action against Rook and her family.
The Limitless Sky concludes with an open ending. Readers may wonder if it was Kilbourne’s intention that readers supply what is to come next for Rook and Gage, or is she signalling that there will be a sequel?
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a city that also has limitless skies (unless there is a blizzard).