To Chapter 6
[non-editor's note: this was written while the book was being read, in approximately early 2015 or late 2014]
One of the first things that struck me about this novel is that it is not particularly well written. Rather clunky, and especially useful as a demonstration of why show is preferable to tell. At least to begin with every hint of back-story is followed by a narrative monologue explaining the details so that nothing but Official Mysteries are left to be wondered about, nor to emerge from the interactions of the characters with each other. I'm disappointed by that as I would have preferred more unfolding, more learning about the characters and their relationships and histories as a natural-feeling consequence of things actually happening.
This does not prevent me from enjoying the reading of this story so far, but it does mean I am not inclined to recommend it to others.
Story took a few perspective shifts to be setting up the board. A prologue of very military SF bent, a dramatic last stand on Mars against swarming invaders, a sergeant who at first does not realise how dire the situation is, before finally sacrificing himself to buy time for both his soldiers and ultimately for humanity to send off the colony ships that are the ostensible focus of this novel. Then, an archaeological dig on a colony world which puts me in mind of parts of Revelation Space if only the Amarantin had still been talkatively around. Finally, the scope is widened in a way which leads me to think the board is now set for the remainder of the story.
In that part some of my expectations were overturned. From the back of the book I had expected this novel to feature: a humanity wiped out in its home system by your standard invading hive aliens; and the story to feature the travails and conflicts of the scattered human diaspora in conflict with itself (and one other alien species with a mysterious past, in a role ranging from initial allies to potential galactic menace). Instead, this is looking a lot more galactic-political with a plethora of aliens and their competing interest, along with a looming vaguely alluded ancient menace which seems to be of the form 'artificial intelligence'.
Not fond of AI (what seems to be meant by allusions to “the dreamless” and the colonists' own bad history with AI) being portrayed as villainous, especially in the sense of beings without a direct evolutionary history lacking some essential quality that forestalls tendencies to diabolical evil. Also worried that the Uvovo are seeming a bit zen-orientalist in an attuned with nature kind of way.
The colony featured in this book is descended from a mix of the most northern of Northern Europe cultures – Russian, Scandinavia, and Scotland, IIRC – and so it seems safe to guess that the following two novels will feature the other two colonies; I am a bit nervous at how two presumably less white colony mixes will be depicted. So far, the main nod has been a mention of Indonesian soldiers during the Mars prologue sequence.