Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sly Mongoose - Tobias Buckell

I thought I was supposed to post my first review last Thursday and missed the day due to the tail end of Hurricane Ike whipping through Cincy and taking down power and phone lines for 90% of the city. I didn’t have Internet access back until Friday. I was really steamed about that because I’m really excited to be doing reviews for Enduring Romance and didn’t want to start by missing my first dateline.

I see myself as a Science Fiction reader who also enjoys a Romance novel from time to time, and occasionally reads Fantasy and Mysteries. My favorite form of SF is Space Opera, but lately I’ve been impressed by the growing amount of good Science Fiction Romance that’s being published. SFR is shaking off its “hot Alien babe/dudes” with “exotic nookie in space” reputation and standing up on its own as legitimate and I think it’s adding some much needed new blood to the SF genre. I’m planning to review some Science Fiction Romance and Romantic Science Fiction books in the future but, I’m also looking forward to reviewing some straight SF. There is much more to the genre these days than Bug-eyed-aliens, Little-green-men, phallic rockets and ray guns, cheesy campy characters, and disaster/monster of the week plots. I’m hoping to get some readers who usually read in other areas to look at SF with new eyes.

Given that goal I’m picking a book by a relatively new writer for my first review. Tobias Buckell is a Caribbean born writer now living in Northwest Ohio. After a period of being looked down on by serious writers in the field as old fashion, juvenile, or best left to media tie-in projects, Space Opera is making a comeback and Buckell’s books are part of that resurgence. He has created a new sub-genre: Caribbean Space Oprea. His books are crammed full of cool ideas, fresh new twists on genre cliche's, neat stuff like zeppelins, and just plain fun swashbuckling. In many ways they look back to the time when SF was filled with Planetary Romance stories like Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars sagas, but they also have a modern cyber-nano tech steampunk edge.

Sly Mongoose is the third book Buckell has set in a reality where for reasons of politics and self-defense Earth cut itself off from the rest of the universe. The human colonies left behind in space are peopled by decedents of third world refugees, the only people desperate enough to leave the home planet and set up new lives in a universe unfriendly to humans. For several hundred years they have fought with each other, and their alien neighbors while eking out and existence at the edge of a galactic civilization that sees humans as something between vermin and pets. You don’t have to have read Crystal Rain, or Ragamuffin, the previous two books set in this universe to read Sly Mongoose, since they happen years apart and are not too tightly related. Be warned though, that after reading Sly Mongoose you are going to what to pick up the other books.

The planet Chilo has a run-a-way green house atmosphere, like Venus. The surface with its metal melting heat and intense pressure isn’t ideal for human colonies, but in Chilo’s dense atmosphere breathable air is a lifting gas, so the planet has dozens of floating cities. Most are high tech, think Bespin from Star Wars. These Aeolian cities have an affluent population constantly linked real-time by computer implants that makes today’s Internet look like smoke signals. Every aspect of Aeolian society is voted on by anyone who cares to listen in, sort of government by American Idol. Katrina is a teenage avatar from one of these high tech cities. Wired up with more sensors and cameras than other members of her society she is literally the eyes and ears her people send investigate when mysterious stranger who falls out of the sky and hits the neighboring city of Yatapek.

Yatapek is one of a hand full of poor independent low-tech cities. Its existence depends on teens like Timas who train and starve all their lives to stay slim enough to fit into the undersized pressure armor their Aztecs descended ancestors were unwittingly sold when they fled fighting on their original colony on the culturally Caribbean planet of Nanaganda to start a new life on Chilo. Without kids like Timas to run mining equipment on the planet's surface Yatapek will fail.

The man who fell out of the sly is Pepper, the near immortal soldier-spy-agent provocateur who also shows up in Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin. Pepper is a living remnant of the original human push out into space hundreds of years earlier. He is on a diplomatic ship heading for a peace conference between the few remaining independent human freedom fighters and a growing multi-system totalitarian human government when the ship is attacked by what seem to be zombies. Pepper puts on a space suit and jumps out the airlock over Chilo hoping to escape with a warning.

His arrival causes a crisis in Yatapek. It turns out the zombies are doomsday bio-weapon targeted at Chilo, not the peace conference. They might be linked to the mysterious aliens Timas saw on his last trip to the planet’s supposedly uninhabited surface. The zombies could have been sent by one of the rival human governments, or a previously unknown shadowy alien organization that views humans as a threat to the status quo of the galaxy. The survival of Yatapek, and maybe even all humanity, rests in the shoulders of two mature beyond their years teens and a possibly burned out soldier-spy.

Oh, and just in case that doesn’t get your attention and make you want to read this book there are semi-intelligent winged animal-machines made of canvas and scrap metal, and powered by the wind. Sort of flying descendants of Theo Jansen’s walking beach sculptures. There are also zeppelins, did I mention the zeppelins?

There is no sex to speak of in this book. Although the action-adventure level is high, the sensual heat level is non existent. There is some violence, and a couple of battle scenes with the zombies. People do die and get chopped up, but there is little graphic detail. I’d say the battle scenes are more icky than gory and I have a fairly low creep-out level.


Kimber Li said...

Awesome review, mfitz!

Tobias Buckell is one of my favorite authors. In fact, CRYSTAL RAIN, is on my list for Top Ten Books for 2008 here on Enduring Romance and stands a good chance at Number One. Of course, I haven't read RAGAMUFFIN, so that might change! ;) I'm doing RAGAMUFFIN after HERETIC QUEEN by Michelle Moran which is next on my list.

So glad you survived Ike and are back on-line!

Mfitz said...

Thanks Kimber An! Buckell lives in my area of the country. I run in to him from time to time. In addition to being a bang-up writer he's a nice guy, which makes me twice as eager to turn people on to his writing.

Kimber Li said...

Personality does make a difference to me too, mfitz. I'm not going to want to talk to anyone about the books of an author who's behaved like a porcupine to me. There's plenty of nice authors to talk up instead.

Oh, by the way, here's the link to my review of CRSTAL RAIN, also by Mr. Buckell.

Kimber Li said...

Mulluane, one of my new Blog Buddies at Young Adult Science Fiction, let me know about a Tobias Buckell three book giveaway. Here's the link-

Heather Massey said...

Splendid review, mftz! And wow, you know him? Kewl!

I second your shout out for SFR and how it's undergoing a transformation. It's intelligent, sophisticated, and accessible. I'm finishing up one right now that is to die for.