Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sly Mongoose, by Tobias Buckell

Sly Mongoose
Tobias Buckell

Zombies in space!

Got your attention, did I? I don’t know why neither Tobias Buckell nor Tor has put forth a major marketing push for Sly Mongoose based around Zombies in Space! I think it’s a great idea. Of course, part of the reason is likely that only a small section of Sly Mongoose actually features Zombies in Space!, which is a shame. The fact, however, that Sly Mongoose does feature Zombies in Space! is inherently cool.

Pepper returns in the first chapter with an exciting freefall through the toxic atmosphere of Chilo, the planet where the refugees of the Azteca of New Anagada settled after the events of Crystal Rain. Pepper flees the zombies in space, the tale of which we will get in a later chapter, and brings warning to Chilo of the impending invasion. This is no mere freefall of a ship, no, this is Pepper in a Pepper-sized bubble essentially crashing through atmosphere to make a landing only Pepper can survive. It is crazy and, to use a reviewing cliché, a “rip-roarin” and exciting way to open Sly Mongoose.

Buckell settles down into the meat of the story after that opening chapter, instead focusing on a Chilo youth, Timas. Pepper is only a bit player in the novel, as he should be. The sort of story which would require hyper-capable Pepper in full health would be a much different story than Buckell is telling with Sly Mongoose (or Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin, for that matter).

Timas believes he saw an alien on the corrosive surface of Chilo, but his parents and his city refuses to listen to him, let alone believe. Pepper believes, however, (eventually) because he knows about the Swarm. The above mentioned "Zombies from Space!".

With a bit of adventure across Chilo (if across is the right word), Buckell shows us the refusal of nations to change and how hard that change is when it is forced upon them, a bit of a zombie apocalypse, though not nearly as apocalypsy as I might like, and overall tells a decently good story. Well, that's not entirely accurate as the story itself is good, but after Ragamuffin's expansion into interstellar conflict, Sly Mongoose feels like a quiet step back. It is clear there are big and bad things occurring beyond the world of Chilo. Buckell has already expanded his universe and the brief contraction is disappointing.

This is not to say that Sly Mongoose is a poorly written novel or that there is not excitement to be had or sharp writing to be found, because it isn't and there is. Crystal Rain was an impressive debut. Ragamuffin was a significant improvement over a good novel. Sly Mongoose? Well, Sly Mongoose is a bit closer to Crystal Rain. It's good, and a worthy edition to the oeuvre of Tobias Buckell, but that step back into a smaller scale doesn't quite work nearly as well as when Buckell expanded the universe. The aspects of Sly Mongoose which work best, at least in my mind, are not necessarily the parts with Pepper but rather the parts where Buckell expands the novel back out again and shows the reader what else is going on in the universe.

I still look forward to the next Buckell novel, whether it is a continuation of this story or something else (not necessarily counting the Halo novel). Sly Mongoose lives up to the promise of Buckell's early novels and he is still sharp and impressively creative, but on the other hand, Ragamuffin set the part a bit high and Sly Mongoose doesn't quite pull its chin over the bar.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Tobias Buckell.

Previous Reviews
Crystal Rain

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