Sunday, 12 November 2017

Review: The Wrong Stars

The Wrong Stars The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a lot of fun, and also has a subtle point to make about abuse and what it leads to (without getting super-graphic).

I don't read much space opera anymore, mainly because so much of it is military, and that doesn't especially interest me. This, however, is more of a classic old-school space opera, suitably updated for today.

The author doesn't have a particularly firm grasp on astrophysics and how acceleration, deceleration, spin, and gravity work, and the book does exhibit the genre trope where somehow thirty or forty years' worth of technological and social change, and apparently no new cultural creations, have been crammed into several centuries; but I can overlook those issues for the sake of a gripping plot, a great ensemble cast, and sparkling banter. Banter such as:

"Have I told you lately that I'm a genius?"
"I'm not sure. I don't usually listen when you talk."

Rather than the usual ragtag freighter crew skirting the edges of the law, possibly from the outside of it, we have here a group of what are more-or-less law enforcement contractors - think something between corporate security, bounty hunters/skip-tracers, and deputized civilians, with just a touch of Judge Dredd. This is a good variation on a classic formula, and drives parts of the plot satisfactorily.

There are aliens, but only one kind (or so the characters initially believe) - the Liars, squidlike beings so called because you can't trust anything they say about their origins, their history, their agenda, or even what they were doing this morning. The plot that unfolds is cosmic in its implications, with a nod to Mythos, among other sources, but remains at the intimate level of a couple of ships' crews.

Speaking of intimate, if lesbian romance is a problem for you, or characters of nonbinary gender, you're probably going to want to skip this one (unless you need to feed your outrage, I suppose - I don't know what goes on in your head). It doesn't get explicit, though.

There's plenty of adventure, varied and entertaining, and the author is highly capable and assuredly in control of his material. I thoroughly enjoyed his urban fantasy Heirs of Grace, which took a genre that's been feeling mined out and flooded with bad copies and made it fresh, interesting, and intelligent again. That's why I picked this one up, and I wasn't disappointed; he does the same for space opera, giving us a book that's both richly entertaining and also has a bit of depth and weight to it.

Fans of L.J. Cohen and Ann Leckie are likely to enjoy this one.

I received a review copy via Netgalley.

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