Thursday, July 10, 2008

CRYSTAL RAIN by Tobias S. Buckell

Omigoodness, this is one of the most awesome books I've read so far this year. The world-building alone blows me away. I have a thing for Science Fiction which explores alien cultures anyway, yanno. One of the things which attracted me to it in the first place was the multi-cultural cast of characters. You don't get the standard white guy hero, his big-boobed moon-tart of the week, and a token black guy along for the ride. You get as many skin tones and language accents as you do right here on planet Earth, which makes it feel a lot more real to me.
It starts out with a guy lost in a jungle and if you didn't know better you'd think he was in a plane shot down over South America. All the slimy, scary little rain forest things are there and the people could have been teleported with their game tables straight out of Jamaica. I mean, there's dreadlocks and drums and everything. It's way cool.
John's a man living happily ever after, still getting frisky with his wife in the kitchen after many years and hanging out with his teenaged son. He's a fisherman and an artist. If you're used to the stereotypical Kick-Butt Heroine, you might be a little miffed to see his wife hanging out the laundry. But, let's get real here, people. Every woman has her own strength and some of us do *choose* a traditional role. The mark on this domestic bliss is the fact that John came from somewhere else and he can't remember his life before he was pulled from the sea many years before.
By this time, you'll be wondering just how this quasi-Carribean culture got on this alien planet. Is this some weird Alternate Earth Mr. Buckell dreamed up when his brain was stewed in Nyquil? Oh, no. Rather than info dump, there's little hints along the way, such as John's wife telling her son a bedtime story. Like Earth-bound myths, the truth has been fuddled in the passing down of the story from one generation to the next. The humans were sucked into this alien planet through little wormholes in space, along with aliens from other worlds. Some of those aliens and humans were cruel and vicious, like the Azteca who sacrifice people to their gods. Sound familiar? If you know anything about the Aztec or any other South American indigenous cultures, I'm sure it does. Besides the Azteca, there are also the Frenchies and the Bridish. Get the similarities? The way Mr. Buckell extrapulated how these human cultures would evolve on an alien planet is absolutely brilliant.
Anyway, the Azteca have been drilling a hole through a mountain which protects the good guys on the coast. Scouts and such are learning this terror little by little and spreading the word. But, it's too terrifying for many people to believe. The Wicked High Mountains have protected them, for the most part, for so long. One of the Azteca leader snags a double-agent, Oaxyctl, and threatens to kill him if he doesn't bring back alive the one guy who knows the secrets he wants - John. Of course, John can't remember any of those secrets, but the bad guys don't know that.
Dihana is Prime Minister in Capital City and she knows the Azteca are coming, even if a lot of people don't want to believe it. She scrambles to answer the threat, but building up the mongoose-men and ragamuffins (kind of like the National Guard) probably won't be enough.
The first Azteca over run the first villages while John is at work and he can only assume his wife and son have been slaughtered with the rest. Word spreads and the masses flee behind the walls of Capital City. Terrified, they turn on the descendents of Azteca refugees who didn't like the whole sacrificing children to their gods idea. Chaos ensues and Dihanna worries her people will destroy themselves before the Azteca ever arrive.
After John is rescued from the Azteca by Oaxytcyl, he's convinced he's found a friend and ally in the war to save his people. He and the warriors he's with are convinced of the same thing Dihanna is, that the only way to save themselves from the Azteca is to discover the machines left by their ancestors. Abandoned in fear and confusion, the knowledge of the machines' use is believed extinct.
CRYSTAL RAIN is violent because war is violent. There is blood and guts, but not for its own sake. The scariest thing about this book is that there are religious fanatics today who also commit violent acts against the innocent in the name of their gods. This story has all the best and all the worst of humanity in it. A real story for the ages.
Tor was kind enough to send me the sequel as well, RAGIMUFFIN, and I'll be reviewing that in September most likely.
P.S. The airships you see on the cover are really cool in the story!


Robyn said...

You had me at the cover.

Kimber An said...

Gorgeous, isn't it? RAGAMUFFIN has a real, honest-to-goodness BLACK Kick-Butt Heroine on it! A Science Fiction novel with a black heroine! Woo-hoo!

LadyBronco said...

Oh, I am so going to buy this story!

Fantastic review, Madame Kimber, as always!

Heather said...

Thanks for reviewing this as I wouldn't have known about it otherwise. I totally flip for airships. If I had one, my bumper sticker would read "I drool for steampunk".

And if the heroine is on it, I'm sold!