review

Higher Cause by John Hunt

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

The eighth part of Higher Cause is out. Three chapters this time, and a real sense that the main plot is truly underway. I have some suggestions for streamlining, slicing off what does not aid the book and leaving some succulent, lean meat behind.

The first chapter takes us to more new characters, two of them. This is starting to happen with some frequency in the novel, and I am growing a little impatient with it. There is quite an investment of words given to these two men, which comes at the expense of making us wait on the storylines we are invested in. In truth, the chapter does not feel like it ought to have been a chapter all by itself. I would counsel shortening it and tacking it on to the end of another chapter, giving us just the bare essentials. Give us the important points and move the plot.

The last part saw a character introduced and developed at some length only to have him perish before the chapter ended. If these two men are going to figure large in the book, perhaps a little time spent here is OK, but if they are never going to be more than secondary characters — and after such late introductions, one wonders how primary they could possibly be — I think much of this should be edited. Whether it turns out to be worth it will depend on what happens next.

We follow them around in some detail as they perform their task, but one wonders if all these details are necessary. Again, another character’s bio sheet was told to us, rather than giving us an opportunity to get to know him by his words and actions. Did we enter the scene as late as possible and leave it as soon as we could? I do not think so, and the surplus detail exacerbates the problem.

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Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell

Ragamuffin by Tobias BuckellAs I mentioned in my review of Crystal Rain, I enjoyed reading Tobias Buckell’s debut novel, but I enjoyed reading the sequel, Ragamuffin (Tor, 2008), even more. This may be because Buckell has grown as a writer or it may be because Ragamuffin is more a traditional galaxy-spanning space opera, one of my favorite subgenres. But another reason is that there are more prominent libertarian themes in Ragamuffin than there were in Crystal Rain, enough that it was a finalist for the 2008 Prometheus Award.

Where Crystal Rain was set on a lost colony planet mostly devoid of advanced technology, Ragamuffin opens on an advanced planet ruled by an alien race called the Gahe, who are themselves a client race under the rule of the secretive Satraps. Human beings are officially “free” in the “benevolent” Satrapy, but in fact are forced to live on the margins of society — on space stations in the middle of nowhere, on interdicted planets cut off from the rest of the galaxy by collapsed wormholes (including Earth itself), or on reservations. On the Gahe planet, Astragalai, humans who don’t want to serve in the role of intelligent pet for a Gahe master must live on a reservation, which they can only leave when granted a temperary “human safety” pass. Woe to the human who does not return to his reservation before his temporary pass expires: the penalty is death or enslavement.

We are first introduced to the protagonist of the novel, Nashara, on one such reservation called Pitt’s Cross. Fans of Pepper and John from Crystal Rain will be increasingly disappointed not to see them at the outset, so I think it is best to go into this novel with the foreknowledge that characters from Crystal Rain do not make an appearance until about halfway through. Still, Nashara does quickly grow on you and you will get to see Pepper open a big ol’ can o’ whoop ass eventually, so hang in there. And if it’s Pepper-style whoop ass you’re after, Nashara will not disappoint.

So, anyway, Nashara escapes Pitt’s Cross and rides on an orbital skyhook and transport pod up to a space station to meet up with a group, the revolutionary League of Human Affairs, for whom she had just completed a dangerous job. The League wants to overthrow the Satrapy and achieve real freedom for humanity. But Nashara’s loyalties lie elsewhere and she has a greater mission to accomplish. Things don’t go as planned, but Nashara manages to hitch a ride on a spaceship and proceeds to be hunted in a race across the galaxy by agents of the Satrapy.

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