Buckell, Tobias S.: (03) Sly Mongoose

Tobias S. Buckell’s Sly Mongoose is set after Ragamuffin and is perhaps a bit more of a series book than previous installments. Like Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose is a solidly fun SF story with some interesting things to say about power, prejudice, and responsibility.

The book opens with Pepper, a character in the prior two books, de-orbiting the planet Chilo with nothing more than a spacesuit and a personal heatshield. He brings warning of the Swarm, which he calls “groaning, stumbling, dumb-as-fuck, old-school zombies.” Except, well, they’re actually even more dangerous than that.

The other point of view character is Timas. Chilo’s population live in cloud cities, floating above the killing temperatures and pressures at the surface of the Venus-like environment. His ancestors were Azteca on New Anegada who Reformed (disavowed human sacrifice) and left when it was revealed that their gods were actually aliens. Timas’s city survives on materials mined from the surface, but because they’ve fallen on hard economic times, they cannot afford new powered suits for the surface work. Only young men like Timas can fit into the equipment that remains, a position of honor, privilege, and overwhelming responsibility. But that doesn’t ensure that anyone in his xenophobic society will listen when he thinks he sees an alien on the surface.

So: deorbiting without a spaceship, cloud cities, zombies, Reformed Azteca, and mysterious hidden aliens—and that’s just in the first two sections. There’s lots more fun SFnal goodness along the way, plus the aforementioned thematic considerations, and a sense that the universe is continuing to expand and complicate. And lest this summary give the wrong impression, there are two major female characters whose portrayal I was eventually quite pleased by.

My only negative comment is that Pepper occasionally gives me an appeal of the lawless elite twinge of misgiving. Yes, it’s quite clear that he’s not a nice person, but I think it’s also clear that he’s supposed to be cool, so . . .

I’d say read Ragamuffin first, but if you liked that, definitely read this one too.

Crossposted to [info]50books_poc, a LiveJournal community for people who are attempting to read fifty books by people of color in a year. My reasons for participating are the same as Rachel M Brown’s, given here. I will tag books read for the challenge and also provide links to the cross-postings, because I am anal-retentive like that.

Also, I have decreed that this series is to be known as the Forty-Eight Worlds series, because I have to file it under something, until the author says differently.


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  1. The author has said differently, so the Xenowealth Series it is.

  2. Kate, have you read Crystal Rain, the first book in the series? If so, what did you think of it?

  3. I have not. I probably won’t; it doesn’t sound as appealing.

  4. I see. Since I’d only heard of this author from you, and I generally start series at the beginning unless I have strong encouragement to do otherwise, I grabbed it from the library. From what you say, I suspect that the other books will be very different.
    (And no, I didn’t think it was either particularly good or particularly bad. It was not to my taste in certain ways, but I’ll probably move on to Ragamuffin at least.)

  5. Oh, two other quick points:
    1. Did I interpret your original comment correctly as saying that Tobias Buckell is a person of color? I only ask because I would never have guessed that from his photo on the dust jacket.
    2. “A solidly fun SF story” is not a phrase I would have applied to Crystal Rain. There’s very little fun in the book. Torture, gore, grief, guilt, despair, treachery… but not much fun. I’m glad to hear that the series lightens up later.

  6. 1. Yup.
    2. It’s never _light_, but it does have a lot of fun stuff.

  7. 1. Great link; thanks.
    2. I suspect we may use the word “fun” in divergent ways. Not a problem, but I’ll keep it in mind for future reference.

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