Wednesday, 3 October 2007
‘Crystal Rain’ – Tobias Buckell (Tor Books)
There have been a lot of positive things said about Tobias Buckell in the last few months, Tor sent me a copy of ‘Ragamuffin’ and after I finished it I knew all the hype was very much justified. This was ‘space opera’ just the way I like to read it; none of that fancy ‘hard sci-fi’ rubbish (no offence meant!) just a cracking story with big space ships, evil aliens and gallant heroes. Then I noticed, on Tobias’ site, that the author was making copies of ‘Crystal Rain’ (the prequel) available for reviewers. My greedy little eyes glittered and, fingers twitching, I set about getting myself a copy to read. I’ve just finished reading it. What did I think? Read on…
‘Crystal Rain’ and ‘Ragamuffin’ both read fairly well as ‘stand alone’ books but it’s clear that they form the basis for a series and should be read in order. I read them in completely the wrong order and went straight from high adventure in space to world-building/scene setting on the planet of Nanagada… This sounds worse than it is though. While there is a heavy element of world building (that drags on the tale), the story and characters more than make up for this. Tobias Buckell’s work has been a real ‘find’ for me this year and I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
John deBrun is a man without a memory, the earliest he can remember is being washed up on a Nanagadan beach twenty seven years ago. He had built a life for himself but all is about to change when Azteca warriors storm over the mountains looking for sacrifices to their Gods. John becomes Nanagada's only hope when it is revealed that salvation lies in an artefact known as ‘Ma Wi Jung’, he has the key but he cannot remember what it is…
At just over 300 pages long, ‘Crystal Rain’ is a galloping read that throws the reader into an alien world that they won’t want to leave. While the plot itself is fairly standard it is Buckell’s treatment of his characters, and the introduction of Caribbean themes, that really make this story stand out from the rest. Just by reading about certain people’s thoughts/motivations etc you can tell that Buckell has invested a lot of time in his creation and has left no stone unturned in giving the reader the best story he can. The characters of John deBrun and Pepper (and their interactions) are the best example of this. By the end of the book you will really feel for what deBrun has had to go through and despite Pepper’s violent tendencies I reckon you’ll feel a little sorry for him as well. It’s not just the main characters though, everyone else you meet has been well rounded and will challenge your initial perceptions of their character. Some of the decisions they have to make are heartbreaking.
I don’t know much (at all) about Caribbean culture but it’s clear through the use of dialect, and cultural icons such as the Loa, that Buckell knows his stuff (so he should, having lived there!) and has effectively transplanted Carribean society to an alien world. In many ways this serves to emphasise just how alien the setting really is and makes for an interesting read on more than one level.
‘Crystal Rain’ does drag a bit at times but redeems itself in many other ways. I may have just found my new favourite sci-fi author! I’ll certainly be on the lookout for ‘Sly Mongoose’ (Book Three) when it is published.
Eight and a Half out of Ten