Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell
A quick summary stolen from back cover: In Ragamuffin, Tobias S. Buckell returns to the fascinating universe he introduced in his spectacular first novel, Crystal Rain...and changes it forever.
How I'd sum it up to another reader: Well, it's a mixed bag of things. There's spaceships and aliens, but later on there's gods and a teeny uprising. Explosions, too. And a superb battle in space that jumps from ship to ship to ship. Technology runs wild in the galaxy. Aliens are out to control humans and use them as pets or puppets. An aggressive woman named Nashara hired to do a dirty job is looking for a way out of it all, and she won't stop at anything. Certainly not killing alien slime.
Back on the Caribbean-flavored planet Nanagada, the battle between the humans, the Azteca, and the Teotl is still going on. It is only when the threat of the Satraps hangs overheads that the bad guys and good guys must team up despite their differences. Still, nothing ever works out as easy as planned.
The cover sez and shows: A trio of gun-toting peeps dropping down a long axis shaft. A rope swings this way and that, but it doesn't matter. No one is reaching for it. This is zero-g, folks. They're dropping in style, an ocean of blue light all around. Eye-grabbing, for sure, and just about a 180-spin from the lush, metal-free Crystal Rain cover.
Number of dragons, wizards, and reluctant farmer boys: Unfortunately, none at all. Boo.
Hardest name to pronounce in my head: Xippilli.
Best part: Etsudo and his ship of mind-wiped criminals. Every time a scene came up with him I couldn't help but read a bit slower. Where Pepper stole most of the scenes in Crystal Rain, I found Etsudo to be the star here. And I'm pretty sure he's not supposed to be. He's a character you hate, you learn to hate, you see clearly why you shouldn't like him, and yet, still, I felt something for him. Maybe it's just me and that I find underdogs to be more interesting than action heroes.
I also enjoyed Buckell's invention of lamina, a sort of informational plane that exists on the fringes of people's vision. It reminded me a bit of the coding in The Matrix, but in Buckell's world people thrive on lamina, they need it to get by. And some, such as Nashara, can manipulate it to their advantage.
Worst part: For those looking to dive right back into the same world experienced in Crytal Rain, it doesn't happen right away. The book opens into unfamiliar territory, and maybe for some it might be a bit daunting. The numerous alien races confused me at times, and I looked to the characters to help clear things up but many of them had no clue what was what either. A couple scenes involving a young sister/brother combo were kind of uninteresting in the scheme of things.
But now I see that these books aren't meant to be direct sequels, but something more akin to Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. A bunch of books in the same world with a few connecting threads. But does that make Pepper a raunchy Sam Vimes? Maybe.
I had problems reading the spaceship name Toucan Too. It kept coming out wrong in my head. All I could picture was that stupid cereal-lovin' parrot. Ugh.
Random thoughts and theories: This, to me, is actually a complicated book. The different aliens and their order of rank amongst one another is a bit confusing, but I still found them all to be genuinely creepy. Especially the Hongguo. Buckell never overexplains anything though and keeps the pace of the book going forward at a strong stride. In the beginning, I was a little unclear of how the system of habitats worked but that soon faded and before I knew it we were shooting up some Satraps. But it is clear that the world (worlds?) within are deeply structured with their own laws and civilized manners, and that Buckell knows what he's doing with them all. I'm going to expect that the third book, Sly Mongoose, is going to offer even more innovative locales.
If said book were a ride at a Disney theme park: Half of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and half of Space Mountain.
If in school its grade would be: A
Come on, write us a haiku:
Nothing can stop a lady
With a machine-gun
Overall, y'all: Well, Ragamuffin is fun, and with Buckell being a master of the short chapters it's a fairly fast read. I definitely suggest those that enjoy action-stuffed science fiction with a whole lot of cool to it to pick up this book right now. Postmodern space opera has never been so good. It's got a rich balance of characters, apt dialogue, and enough life-or-death moments to keep readers flipping pages.
Books I might or might not compare to: The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams, Old Man's War by John Scalzi, Horizons by Mary Rosenblum, Crossover by Joel Shepherd
Some linkage: Tobias Buckell's web site and order a copy of Ragamuffin from Amazon.