on 7 January 2009
The Satrapy are a collective that rule the worlds and overlook everything, watching for forbidden technology and destroying it when it surfaces. With Earth, New Anagada and Chimson cut off from this collective hundreds of years earlier, the remains of humanity live where they can, told they are free although more often than not they are restricted in many things.
The Hongguo are a human faction working for the Satrap to ensure that piracy and illegal technology are controlled and restricted in the human population. For many years they have kept an eye on the Ragamuffin, the remaining island people from Earth and the other cut off planets. Now the Hongguo have new orders from their Satrap masters, ones that will force a big change on the human population.
The Ragamuffin are huddled on the outskirts of the wormhole network, making home near the cut-off New Anagada wormhole. When the Hongguo threat becomes apparent, and the wormhole to New Anagada re-opens, they face both old and new enemies and must make decisions that will affect not just them, but all of humanity.
I read Crystal Rain last year and loved the way that Tobias Buckell bought a unique flavour to science fiction. The Caribbean influences made for an interesting story and very strong characters. So, it was with great anticipation that I picked up Ragamuffin. My main question was whether or not Buckell could bring the uniqueness and story telling skills to space opera, and if he could how would it all fit together. I was very pleased to find not only an interesting story, but one with great characters, an interesting history and more than enough action to satisfy anybody.
Ragamuffin is split into three sections, initially following Nashara as she escapes the planet she is stuck on and tries to find her way as close to New Anagada as possible. Nashara's story then goes on to entwine with the other section, life on new Anagada after the events of Crystal Rain and the subsequent re-opening of the wormhole and also the merging of the two plots for the final act. All of these are well integrated as a whole, although I am glad that I've read Crystal Rain to fully appreciate the situation on New Anagada.
Nashara is a very unique character, a clone of one of the old founders of Chimson that is designed with forbidden technology to do very serious damage to her enemies - we find out very early on that her fellow clones died unleashing hell on their captors so Nashara could escape. She is a strong female lead with serious attitude - a character that is easy and fun to read with an underlying history that slowly comes to the surface. We've also got another interesting character in Estudo, a Hongguo who has some rather diverse views that don't entirely match up with the rest of the Hongguo. He's interesting and multi-layered and gives a viewpoint that, as a reader, is ideal. We've also got our old friends from Crystal Rain in the shape of John deBrun and, of course, Pepper. I think that reading the first book would help greatly in reading these characters, although a good job is made to give a summarised back-story without interfering with the plot. Pepper is a great character and one of the most enjoyable to read - I'm always turning the page when he's about to see what he'll do next!
As a storyteller, Tobias Buckell is very good. He's got a neat and focused style that doesn't get bogged down in the more mundane points of world building, but equally he creates a believable and hugely enjoyable universe. This is one of those things that can set a book apart from others, and Ragamuffin certainly hits the high notes in terms of action and adventure. The only criticism I have about Ragamuffin is how quickly events happen from around the halfway point onwards. It feels slightly rushed and the avenues that we are taken down not explored as fully as I'd hoped, but this doesn't have any serious effect on my opinion about the book, it's just a little niggle.
I'm seriously looking forward to Sly Mongoose, the third novel in the sequence, and sincerely hope that any future novels can keep pace with the precedent that has been set here. Highly recommended!
on 6 August 2010
After reading Buckell's Crystal Rain a coupla years ago when Tor gave it away as a promo for the newly-released-in-paperback Ragamuffin and just-published Sly Mongoose, and liking it a lot, I finally got round to buying both Ragamuffin and Crystal Rain recently. While Ragamuffin is a sequel, it would also work very well as a stand-alone book. Someone reading it without having also read Crystal Rain won't get quite as much out of it and may miss some details, but would still enjoy it.
Where Crystal Rain was steampunk, Ragamuffin is space opera, chock full of splendidly heroic human freedom-fighterss, dastardly evil aliens (and their human minions), and lots of action. But it also has, like its predecessor, well-rounded people, and a consistent well-thought-out universe for them to inhabit. Definitely worth buying.
on 5 January 2009
I read this book because it was a Nebula Award finalist and I'm always interested to discover new authors. However it's hard to see how this level of writing could even be published, let alone be up for any kind of prize. I mean, the guy can barely string a sentence together; And the ones he does put together are poorly-paced, confusing, repetitive, faux-cool, or just plain dull.
Nonetheless, the novel starts with a few interesting - if extremely derivative - ideas, and moves fairly smoothly forward until around the midway point (I was even enjoying the story a little). It then pretty much disintegrates as we are bundled incoherently towards a conclusion with a tumble of jerky prose that appears to have been written in a single pass, without rereading or editing. The exposition of the plot, having been reasonably competently executed in part one, just goes to pieces: the main elements had obviously been planned, or at least the author had a "film" in his head of some of the set-pieces, but the whole thing tries and fails to build to a crescendo and then just peters out limply.
All the while, we are treated to some fairly clumsy moralising, with a lame slavery allegory hovering in the background and a "gee, maybe we'll all just have to learn how to get along" ending. Along the way there are clumsy internal dialogues to explain plot elements, often just sprung from nowhere when the author presumably realised he'd forgotten to set up part of the background properly. Maybe Mr Buckell just got bored with the whole thing and decided to rush the finale off in an afternoon.
Now, it is possible that the book was written with young adults in mind, but it reads like it was written BY one. I can only speculate on whether this is deliberate or if the author writes like this generally. Maybe he is in fact a child prodigy and I'm just being a big meanie. But, having just finished reading it my powers of expression feel so stunted that I can barely get this review down. My mind feels sullied. If I had to use one word to describe it, I'd have to use two: "post-literate". That's how bad it is.