01/11/2008. Contributed by Kelly Jensen
pub: TOR. 320 page hardcover. Price: £17.50 (UK), $26.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-76531-920-3.
check out websites: www.tor-forge.com and http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/
Fans of Tobias Buckell's 'Crystal Rain' and 'Ragamuffin' will be enthralled by 'Sly Mongoose' from the very first paragraph. Pepper, a mostly human 'Ragamuffin' (an elite group of fighters protecting humanity from aliens and other xenophobes) is plunging into the atmosphere of the planet Chilo wearing only a spacesuit and heatshield. He doesn't have a parachute and wanted for murder on a large scale of the entire crew of the 'Sheik Professional', which is now on a collision course with the system's sun. Are in you in yet? It only gets better. Much better.
Chilo, a planet based upon our own lovely Venus, is uninhabitable on the surface where temperatures of over 800 degrees Fahrenheit and extreme pressure battle it out in perpetual storms. However, life is thriving 100,000 feet above the clouds in large, floating cities. Most of the story plays out in and around city of Yatapek, whose inhabitants migrated from the planet New Anegada about 75 years ago. Coming from a culture of human sacrifice and aliens posing as false gods, Yatapek is rife with superstition. I was reminded of the beginning of Buckell's debut novel 'Crystal Rain' where, once again, these people are poor and relying on technology that is not only old, but failing them. Timas, a young boy literally with the weight of the city on his shoulders, starves himself so he can continue to fit the pressure suit that allows him to work as xocoyotzin. He and other boys like him, only they can fit the pressure suits their ancestors once used with ease, travel to the surface to maintain the drilling operation that is the city's livelihood. The extreme nature of his job entitles his family to the highest living standards available in Yatapek but his position is threatened when he thinks he sees an alien on the stormy surface of the planet.
Added to this intrigue are the unique politics of the planet Chilo. While Yatapek is ruled by a council of elders, the other cities rule by consensus, each member voting on every decision that concerns the population as a whole. An Avatar of the consensus is a member who agrees to let the population see through their own eyes, often taking an implanted silver eye for this purpose. The Avatar Katerina arrives on Yatapek amidst whispers of 'zombie' communicated through the vast network of people throughout the consensus which can somewhat slow down question and answer sessions with an Avatar producing a zombie-like effect. Of course, Pepper is burning through the atmosphere, landing smack bang in the middle of the city, bringing tales of entirely different kind of zombie - the horror movie kind - a new alien threat headed toward Chilo.
Pepper is a convincing character and indicative of the work the author puts into his books. Buckell has acquired great skill in imbuing his characters with just the right detail for us to empathise with them without boring us with their every thought and impulse. The one or two characters who pop up in consecutive novels, however, become much more credible causing the reader to become more invested in their future.
Caribbean-born Tobias Buckell adds the distinctive accents, culture and perspective of his itinerant childhood to his speculative fiction. The addition of an Aztec culture re-created by an alien species only adds to the diversity of his universe making these books stand out. Readers will be delighted to know that they can join the fun with this book alone as Buckell does such an admirable job of bringing you up to speed on the politics of his universe, succinctly, and without boring loyal fans. I decided to go back and read 'Crystal Rain' (one hell of a debut) and 'Ragamuffin' (immense fun) and finished them in a weekend-long marathon. I just couldn't stop. It's been a while since I've read so fast and enjoyed books so much. Buckell's writing just gets better and better and the overall plot of his universe is building.
Finally, I'd like to mention the cover art for Tobias Buckell's books. This young author certainly won the lottery when it came to cover artists, scoring Todd Lockwood whose illustrations perfectly capture the most intense scenes of each novel. Lockwood's style is instantly recognisable from such fantasy books as the Mercedes Lackey/James Mallory trilogies and his long association with R.A. Salvatore's 'Legend Of Drizzt' and 'Dungeons And Dragons' illustrations. I had not seen his talent turned to Science Fiction illustration and enjoyed seeing the detail and colour saturation making the covers leap right off the shelf.
If you'd like to sample the writing of Tobias Buckell, the first third excerpts of each of his first two novels are available to read online at the author's website at http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/
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