Su’s Summer Books: “Ascension”

Dear Reader,


I regret to inform you that this Su’s Summer Books account will be my last. Unfortunately, summer doesn’t last an eternity, while I sometimes hope it will, so neither will this column. Accordingly, I found a finale-deserving book, a juicy April 2023-released hardcover at Bookmark, an independent bookstore in Neptune Beach: “Ascension: A Novel” by Nicholas Binge located all the way in the back of the store … in the ominous science fiction section.


Of course, I was first captivated by the title. It’s one of those titles that can turn the air around it murky. It’s one of those titles with multiple interpretations, the ones that often define horror movies. The sunlit bookstore turns murkier as I read the description of the novel: Mind-bending thriller. Scientist of mysterious phenomena. Shady organization. Paranoia. Greatest scientific discovery ever. If the title alone weren’t enough to convince me to pay, the description sure was. Nicholas Binge, I hope you buy something nice with a percentage of the $28 I spent. 


I drive to the nearest BagelsRUs which, in my opinion, has the best bagels in town (and I’m not only praising the New York-style joint because they always have a copy of “Folio” on deck). As I drive, I find myself thinking the column has come full circle. From a science fiction classic to a science fiction newbie novel. I like to suspend myself in places where reality does too. My taste in genres is not utterly unchanging but close to it. And so is my taste in bagels apparently. I place the usual everything bagel with cream cheese order. Classics are classics for a reason.


With bagel and book in hand, I drive home. Somehow, I will read this 342-page monster of a novel in a couple of days. The first hundred pages reads smoothly: The first-person, epistolary style novel follows physicist and retired physician Harold Tunmore as he and other scientists climb a geology- and physics-defying mountain while attempting to explain the mystery behind it. The death-defying experience frequently becomes even more death-defying as delusion and betrayal become the norm. So, in a way, “Interstellar” meets the story of Sisyphus meets Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet” meets “Arrival.”


The typical features of a science fiction novel build their foundation in these first hundred pages: a recluse of a scientist or protagonist with permanent asocial tendencies, an intriguing framing device (unsent letters that mark chapters), a shady organization recruiting protagonists, a burdensome secret that will only be revealed in the last fifty pages probably, and heavy foreshadowing of a higher order being present on Earth.


As the pages turn (because I feel as if a force is turning the pages, not me), so does the frequency of twists. I pride myself on my power of accurate book and movie prediction, but as several betrayals, chases and flashbacks are revealed, I yield to the unpredictability of the book. While I don’t enjoy spoiling, I’ll give you potential readers a warning: Be prepared for many deaths. 


Despite the ever changing nature of the plot, the story never veered into ambiguous territory, except for the necessary tantalizing ambiguities at the end of each chapter and even between. And each enigma timely dilates and unfolds itself as our protagonist rises to the peak of the mountain. No wonder this book has been selected as a “New York Times” Editor’s Choice Pick, “The Times” Best Sci-Fi Books of 2023 and “The Washington Post” Best New Books of April.


As I finish trekking with protagonist Harold Tunmore, I can’t help but consider that I have also finished trekking to my computer to write another segment of Su’s Summer Books and masquerade as a book critic. Although this column has experienced its last deadline, my book infatuation is, fortunately, incurable. The season of reading isn’t a single one, as the title of this column may suggest.


Keep flipping through bestsellers and undiscovered gems, metaphors and plain language, mysteries and poems, if only on my behalf. I promise the ink on the page isn’t a coincidence; it’s a convenience. It’s an opportunity to crown yourself royalty, create myths, indulge in vices via protagonists, chase and be chased, and even perhaps, ascend a mountain.


Signing off, 

Su Ertekin-Taner


About Su Ertekin-Taner

Jacksonville native Su Ertekin-Taner is a student at Columbia University with a passion for everything arts. While she writes creatively, satirically, journalistically, and enthusiastically (of course), she also loves to sing, dance, and do impressions; her favorites are Toddlers and Tiaras Mom and Shakira. Find Su critiquing the quality of reality TV that she willingly spends several hours a day watching, petting her cat even though she recently discovered her cat allergy, and probably watching paint dry because it's fun.