Review of Static Ruin by Corey J. White

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This novella is The Voidwitch Saga Book #3. It’s science fiction, was released November 6, 2018, by Tor.com and runs 218 pages. This review contains spoilers.

This novella starts slightly after the events of Void Black Shadow. Mars is on Joon-ho Station, having left Squid and Mookie on Aylett Station, and now on the run from the Emperor’s Guard. She visits Dr. Ahlam’s clinic, hoping to get help for Pale, who is having seizures. Ahlam recommends that Mars contact her father Marius Teo to get help for the boy. Mars has a lot of residual anger against her father, who cloned her from her mother’s cells and then sold her and her sister to MEPHISTO. Betrayed, Mars has to fight her way off the station, but successfully arrives at Sanderak where she finds a conclave that worships a statue of her mother and a hologram of her father. Her dad has actually been kidnapped by a businessman named Rafael Hurtt, who wants to use his cloning technology. Can Mars rescue her father? Get help for Pale? Can she get the Emperor’s Guard off her backtrail?

By the finish of this series, it’s taken on quite a bit more depth—a real theme developed somewhere along the line. It looks like the imperial government is using MEPHISTO and its corporate cronies to enslave anybody unfortunate enough to fall into their clutches with the aid of transhuman and uplift technology. This includes kids, adults and whatever other living creature that might look attractive or useful to the evil scientists and their overlords. We’ve met a bunch of miserable victims along the line, as people and animals all suffer through the misery of surgical experimentation and deployment as a weapon.

Because of its broad sweep and action-orientation, this doesn’t have the impact that a more character-oriented story would have—the carnage here seems the main point. Still, you have to give it credit for a viable projection and a strong warning message about a possible future. That moves it up some on the Ideation Scale.

Three and a half stars.

Review of Void Black Shadow by Corey J. White

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This novella is The Voidwitch Saga Book #2. It seems to be space opera, was released March 27, 2018, by Tor.com and runs 224 pages. The sequel Static Ruin was released November 6, 2018. This review contains spoilers.

This installment picks up at the end of Voidwitch. Mars has taken in the boy Pale that she rescued from MEPHISTO’s weapons system and is trying to help him learn to use his psychic powers. Mookie, a member of the Nova crew, has been arrested and imprisoned because he’s AWOL from an imperial military unit. Mars investigates and gets a tip to check records on the planet Miyuki. She, Pale, Squid and Trix encounter military forces there and Mars wins the battle against space frigates and ground-force hive-mind cyborgs called the Legion. In data storage they find Mookie has been sent to a MEPHISTO black-site prison on Homan Sphere. Mars holds off more troops to allow the Nova to escape, but allows herself to be arrested and taken to Homon. At the prison, Mars’ presence makes things worse, as management identifies Mookie as her friend and accelerates his conversion into a Legion cyborg. Can she rescue him and rejoin the Nova?

Like the first installment of the story, this moves right along, including space battles and now opposition from ground forces, too. At Miyuki, we find out more about MEPHISTO’s research that creates cyborgs and makes slaves of transhumans.
The story has something of the same drawbacks as in the first volume. The space opera plot seems mostly aimed at creating action sequences, and the characters feel engineered to fit certain roles. That means they’re sympathetic but don’t have a lot of depth. I’m also a little suspicious of the way people get around in these little ships. Getting one seems like buying a car, and going through a wormhole is as easy as driving to the grocery store.

Three stars.

Review of “The Colonel” by Peter Watts

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This novelette was released by Tor.com in July of 2014. It’s hard SF, serves as a bridge between Watts’ novels Blindsight and Echopraxia and features some of the same characters as Echopraxia. This review may contain spoilers.

Colonel Jim Moore has lost his son Siri on the Theseus expedition and his wife Helen has retreated to existence in Heaven, a repository that links human minds for computing, while allowing residents their own virtual landscape. Moore is in charge of monitoring private hived human intelligences, and is awakened to a threat when one of these attacks a commercial compound in Ecuador. He approaches Dr. Liana Lutterodt, a representative of the Bicameral hive he suspects is behind the attack, and she gives him a copy of a faint transmission that may have come from Theseus. Should he conduct a military op against the Bicamerals? Or should he hold off and try to get more info from them about his son?

As usual with Watts’ work, the projection and world building are way out there, and his vision is of humanity post-singularity. He’s definitely a 5 on the Ideation Scale with the question of whether we might actually link consciousnesses to produce a human super brain. There’s a bit of furry interest here to humanize the story. Moore has taken in an abused and mutilated feline named Zephyr that lives mostly alone in their apartment with an automated kibble dispenser. When the Colonel comes home, he works on cutting down the distance he can approach before Zephyr runs to hide. Talk about loneliness and estrangement…

This story moves along fairly smartly. Because of its length, Watts is unable to make the lengthy digressions that slow down Blindsight and Echopraxia, so the readability score goes way up. There’s not much plot here, either, but it does seem to be enough for a story of this length. There’s no real ending because it leads directly into the events of Echopraxia, but it’s satisfying enough, and I’m sure it served well as promotion for the novel’s release. The prose and the science are still a little dense—I had to check a couple of definitions to find out the Ecuadorian compound is likely a pharmaceutical plant.

Four and a half stars.

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