A masterpiece. The pacing, the characters, and in this case, the writing itself, all fell into the right seams. This book is the second in a trilogy and it thoroughly defied my expectations.
I’m not a fan of space station stories—DEFIED!
I’m not a fan of third person omniscient points of view—DEFIED! Sort of.
I get bored with long winded social messages—DEFIED!
Infallible captains are tiresome—DEFIED!
In general I haven’t enjoyed space station stories because it’s usually a ship that goes nowhere. All kinds of deceit and intrigue takes place among species whose dominant character traits resemble something human. Good, bad, caring, loving, militaristic, and then these traits come into conflict with only the station administrator or a good natured captain to mediate the tension. The problem is there’s never a good enough motivation to keep everyone playing the game fairly. Why not send troops to expel the ne’er-do-wells?
With this book the station stayed near a planet in a well traveled solar system. There were other ships, important ships, moving about. It was big with an organic environment that supported the inhabitants. And it was old. Generations of people, an entire subculture, grew and lived within the dilapidated portions of the station developing their own adaptations to an impoverished life. It added more depth to the space station than some structure drifting about. It had a reason to exit above good will to all.
The social message played into the story fairly quickly with the infallible captain immediately finding a cause for the poor. Take that imperialists. The B plot played out as the justice minded captain made enemies of the privileged who sought to destroy the interloper, opening up a reason to find the culprit, talk to the down trodden and reveal improprieties leading back to the A plot. This one quietly built a narrative that let me take a look at real life from another perspective using thinly veiled allegory. I love when that happens.
Only one alien made an appearance in this book. Its species feared by humans, the individual’s presence leading to suspicions within the A-plot, it had an unsettling way of subverting all human and AI security. And with a very funny disposition that added levity to an otherwise somber tone, it died within two pages of its introduction. That took the infallible captain to the planet’s surface where the B plot got going rounding out the rest of the book.
I sure hope the aliens return to destroy humanity if they’re this funny when they do it.
I can’t discuss why I liked this infallible captain without discussing the most crucial part of this author’s writing technique. The story is written in the first person, but the main character is plugged in (wirelessly, of course) to the surrounding artificial intelligences, a battle ship, a lesser war ship and the space station. Then all the ships’ crews and important people on the station were enhanced so the AIs could read thoughts and emotions while being able to see everything everyone did continuously with very few blind spots. Here’s the beauty of this book’s style. While written in the first person, the main character was able to narrate every action and emotion from all the characters in an omniscient style without ever breaking the first person POV. The scene switches were important, concise and always felt close. It was an omniscient view from a close perspective that worked amazingly well for me.
Now to the infallible captain. Everyone’s read a piece of sci-fi where the captain is perfectly confident in words and actions and never lets the crew down. Tough, but fair. To a great extent this is very much the same, however, this captain, acting upon authority vested by the tyrant emperor over the entire military apparatus, carries several secrets. Its origin, the truth about a very quiet civil war and the nature of its mission. With that kind of baggage every choice and decision, weighed in terms of secrecy and loyalty to unreadable factions, added tension and consequence throughout the book. Not a choice of this or that with only thin margins for success lesser men may not see, but conundrums that lead to greater conundrums always searching for missing pieces to the wider plot. The infallible captain moved the story forward, but not on orders for the sake of orders. With the pieces unfolding wider dangers hid just out of sight, dangers that threatened the whole of an empire this captain served, yet didn’t entirely agree with.
This may give the book away, but I don’t care. The author chose an interesting form of social order. Yes, imperialistic, yes, feudal, but even a step further. I can’t call it a matriarchy because lineage isn’t discussed in detail. Nearly all of the pronouns are feminine. Everyone is a she and a sister. My grasp of the pronouns was better this time than from the first book so I didn’t spend much energy thinking it through. At one point, in a less civilized community one girl had a brother, but the brother was later called a sister and referred to in terms of she. Interesting. So binary genders exist in this world, yet there was never any distinct gender identifying descriptions, or actions for any character throughout. Even though sexual propriety was discussed in some fair length, orientation never mattered which flowed into a greater theme that for the story narrative gender itself never mattered. From my writers perspective gender has always defined the who, as in the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a story.
While the technique was interesting as an experiment to see if distinct binary pronouns are necessary to tell a good story, the overall effect did something every sci-fi story needs. It removed the reader from the real world, yet not so much as to make it unidentifiable. Naturally English readers can take comfort in the familiar pronoun she. Okay, grounded in the humanness, dealing with people similar to me. You know, human. But now that everyone is a she there’s something different. The culture is different and within the difference anything can happen. This notion of differentness allows for FTL travel, loving AI, and comedic domineering aliens. Sure, all of those have happened hundreds of times over without the gender ambiguity, but with the indistinct pronouns holding a question in the back of one’s mind, the reader is never permitted, not even for a sentence, to slip into the familiar world they inhabit. And the greatest accomplishment, the reader is never pushed into a world so foreign as to be uninteresting or boring. It’s a keen balancing act from a skilled and bold writer.
Huhhhh…. I’m out of breath. I’ve already got the last book and can’t wait till this post is finished so I can start reading. If anyone wants to know the name of the book and author leave me a message. It’s taking all my strength not to shout the names simply to preserve the theme of these book reviews.