01/05/2010. Contributed by Phil Jones
pub: Simon and Schuster. 684 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7432-7543-9.
check out websites: www.simonsays.co.uk and www.wordfire.com
We all like big sprawling space operas, 'Dune', 'Star Wars' and even harking back to the good old Science Fiction of writers like E.E. 'Doc' Smith and Edmond Hamilton. Today space opera as a genre is inhabited by writers such as Ian Banks, more character-centric and high literary standard than in the past pulp fiction writers. So where does Mr. Anderson (no Matrix reference intended) fall with this huge space opera series? Well, complex plot and story driven it is. More accessible than some of its modern day counter-parts, it's a relatively easy read.
So what is this, if you haven't read any before, series about? For starters lots, sorry I digress, slightly over-simplified and not much use to man nor small squidgy alien. There are a lot, and I mean a lot of plot elements going on, but just to get you up to speed here goes. For starters, the Hydrogues have been pretty much taken out of the picture. A complex alien race who inhabits gas giants and can live at huge pressures and temperatures. They have been pretty much enemies of everyone apart from the Kikliss robots, who also pretty much hate and wanted to destroy most other living things in the universe. The Kikliss robots were built by a race of insectoid-like aliens whom, at the start of this book anyway, were thought to be out of the picture and extinct with only archaeological traces and technology behind, but it turns out that they had only lain dormant and hibernating. This strange race emerges periodically and when they do, often fight. Rivalry between different hives or clans escalates until there is only one dominate hive remaining. The robots were built to basically provide some sort of a challenge. A bit of Sunday afternoon fun so to speak. The robots were very much made in the mould of the Kikliss. The robots, though, thought they had managed to wipe out the whole Kikliss race. Their attempts to wipe out humans ends up being a failure. Poor performance against the Earth and both the world forest ships and the various alliances wiping their proverbial butt, their alliance with the Hydrogues cost them dearly. All their attempts to attack both humans and other races reduce their numbers further with most of their plans going up in smoke.
They again attempt to attack human outposts are thwarted, especially by the Ildirans, who with a new leader have various issues coming to terms with the fact that there great written legacy of historical tales is basically flawed and manipulated. King Peter, with his escape from Earth with the now heavily pregnant Queen, still has to deal with the pretty bonkers Chairman Wenceslas of Earth, especially when a load of Earth ships turn up at the world forests home world. Neither they or King Peter are quite so ill-prepared as Chairman Wenceslas would like to believe and it leaves the leader of the Earth's forces questioning his leadership.
There is another threat, the Faeros, Having a new leader of sorts, they now present the most major threat to both the Ildrians and the rest of the universe. The arrival of the Kikliss hasn't helped matters neither.
OK, so if you've read the previous books you'll know the general style and format of this huge space opera. Each chapter tends to focus on one character giving us a sort of episodic third person perspective of this vast saga. These small story snippets add up to a huge number of plot-lines and characters. This does allow for some quite complex plotting but because each chapter tends to be relatively short and an easy read. The well-written prose allows easy access to both the characters and storylines. The downside to all this is perhaps slightly shallow characters. It tends to take a long time to gain any momentum and depth to characters, even sometimes this means character development stretches over books rather than pages. The one thing that Anderson does, though, is describe scenes and people effectively and succinctly. This allows the overall story and epic clashes of the differing races to shine. It does sometimes hinder and feels like a stuttering car before you get to the journey proper.
The really interesting thing is the shift in dynamics. The main threat of Hydrogues and Kikliss robots has been pretty much over-turned but we still have the insipid mad actions of Earth's Chairman and his almost fanatical attempts to destroy King Peter. The whole politics and interactions on Earth allow characters to question more than ever before Chairman Wenceslas' actions. The arrival of the Kikliss allows us to see into how their society operates, and controls and the impact this have on both Earth's settlements on Kikliss' worlds and the Kikliss' surprise at their return. I felt that I was left wanting to know more about both as the Kikliss and the Ildrians have pasts we keep exploring and discovering. There are quite a few skeletons in their closet so to speak.
This book may feel a bit of a lull after the last book, but it pushes the story along and starts to provide a bit more of an insight into how this universe functions and is organised. Perhaps not so much as a major reveal, as a deeper understanding of what it's all about. There are enough questions left to keep you interested 'till the next book and with its easy to read format and detailed introduction will probably appeal to both new and old readers. Not the strongest book in the series but still worth a read especially if you've enjoyed the previous books or like space operas.
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