Reviewed by Clifford Jongko
THE SOL MAJESTIC
By Ferrett Steinmetz
384 pages. Tor Books.
Reader beware: this book is about soup. Served in a restaurant in space.
I must admit the concept of a restaurant in space is intriguing in itself. My initial impression of The Sol Majestic, based on its premise, was a mixture of Douglas Adams, Cowboy Bebop, and the outré science-fiction short stories in Heavy Metal magazine.
The book follows Kenna, a boy who seems to be in the worst situation anyone could be in: starving and alone in a cargo ship, on the verge of trading his principles for survival. Kenna practices a belief system called Inevitable Philosophy, where a practitioner comes up with a mantra that guides them their whole lives. His journey takes him to The Sol Majestic, the most exclusive restaurant in this universe, where one can ostensibly win a dinner free of charge by answering one question.
Why Do You Love Food?
Ask anyone this question and you’re bound to get unique, even interesting, answers. On one hand you’d get answers that dwell in flavor, presentation, and technique; on the other, you’d get the pragmatic “I need it so I won’t get hungry”. Kenna answered the only way he knew how: honestly.
His answer opened up a world full of culinary wonders, and along the way, we are introduced to a diverse dramatis personae: Paulius, The Sol Majestic’s benevolent madman/genius; Benzo, a kitchen help unsure of his abilities; Scrimshaw, the business manager who makes sure The Sol Majestic is operating efficiently; and Montgomery, a sensate who endeavors to experience every sensation once in her life. Together, they’re mired in a journey of self-discovery, tasting, and maybe even a pinch of drama and intrigue.
Chicken Soup…In Space!
Let me correct myself. The Sol Majestic is not about just soup. It’s about how something as simple as soup—or, more accurately, consommé—can change the course of someone’s life. And this is the crux of Kenna’s journey. There are recognizable echoes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the first few pages, but The Sol Majestic later blooms into a Baz Luhrmann production.
What I loved about The Sol Majestic is that the world-building is not as odd for today’s readers. There’s a liberal sprinkling of culinary and pop culture references (they have vloggers…in space!), with nods to popular works of science fiction and fantasy. Eagle-eyed sci-fi readers will recognize a few references to Ender’s Game. A key piece of technology, the Escargone, is clearly based on The Room of Spirit and Time from the Dragon Ball saga.
The Perfect Consommé
The references to real-world cooking techniques and Earth-bound ingredients (Filipino readers: yes, balut is mentioned twice) lend a sense of realism to an otherwise fantastic setting. Anyone who has tried perfecting their “signature” dish can relate to Benzo’s obsession with creating the perfect consommé.
Conflict is presented not in an all-out space war, but in the tension between Kenna and his overbearing parents. As accomplished Inevitable Philosophers, they’re torn between living an ascetic lifestyle and their son being pulled into the lavishness that happens to be the most exclusive restaurant in the universe. The true heart of The Sol Majestic the book is Kenna’s path to self-discovery. It may sound like a cliché, true, but with the titular restaurant as the backdrop, it makes for an unusual science fiction setting: a heartwarming drama. In space. With soup.
Have a Seat, Here’s Our Menu
Our special for tonight is a multi-course dinner we call The Sol Majestic. Let us ask: do you love stories of self-discovery? Do you love stories set in space?
Do you love food?
If you answered yes, then tuck in your napkin, relax, and savor The Sol Majestic.
The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online. Get a copy here.
Clifford is a content writer, musician, and caffeine fiend who co-hosts comic book/graphic novel podcast Those Fcking Nerds (@thoseeffingnerds) on Facebook. He also makes a mean marinara sauce. Follow his comic book musings on Instagram (@tapsilogic) at your own peril.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]