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on 13 March 2008
It is the 25th century and the Consortium spreads out over an area of space in the orion arm. Although humanity do not have the capability to use ftl travel, a species called the Shoal do, and are the only species in the galaxy with that know-how. They happily transport humans within the area they have been designated, but they also put strict limits within the agreement they have with humans, one among many being the prohibition of research into ftl travel.

Dakota Merrick is a machine head, a human with implants that were made illegal after a terrible attack that killed many innocent humans. She now does whatever work she can get using her ship, Piri Reis, although sometimes taking dangerous cargo to keep the money coming in. It is during a job like this that things go wrong and she must get out of the Sol system quickly and keep her head down. She gets work on board the Hyperion, working for the Freehold in what she is told is a scout mission searching for a new planet for them.

Lucas Corso is blackmailed into working for the Freehold, his specialist skills in Shoal computer language desperately desired. The Freehold have discovered a derelict ship, one with ftl capabilities, but not of Shoal origin. They hope to retrieve this ship and use it for what they hope will be a glorious victory over their enemies and the start of independent human expansion throughout the galaxy, all under their watchful eye. However, the Shoal have kept a secret for thousands of years and are prepared to protect it at all costs. Now that this derelict is discovered, that secret is at risk of being revealed.

The derelict found by the Freehold is the main focus of this novel and brings together all characters we meet. This means that the story is very well defined and doesn't wander needlessly, something that makes it so much more enjoyable. Don't get me wrong, there are some things bought up that I would like to know more about, but the story would suffer if they were included, mainly because they are more general aspects of the history and events rather than anything directly involved in the novel.

The characters are also well developed, with sections going back to the earlier life of Dakota explaining in more detail about the situation around Machine Heads. As we're constantly aware of how her type is viewed by the Freehold (and Consortium as a whole) there is always that question in the back of your mind of why she is treated like that. When the thread does conclude, we're fully aware of how the revelations will impact the story, perhaps a little obviously. However, the full revelation happens late enough in the story for it not to matter too much and most will probably figure it out before this anyway.

The other characters are mainly supporting ones, with the main focus being on Dakota. This actually helps the story move along at a steady pace as we're not getting too many viewpoints to the events. Although the stuff I read usually has multiple plot threads and character viewpoints, this was a refreshing change. A story that has such huge ideas and conveys them in a cast relatively small is a nice change, but this also shows great promise for the future novels following on from these events.

At the end of the day, I was mightily impressed with what Gary has done here. The change in his style and ability from Angel Stations is noticeable and very promising. This is a very enjoyable read and at times I was a real page turner. Perhaps a downside is the fact that the novel plays out pretty much as expected with no real surprises, just revelations that add to the experience and general feeling of the novel. I'll be adding Gary to my by on publication list now and eagerley look forward to the continuation of this story.
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on 29 July 2010
After reading through these mixed reviews and deciding to buy the book and find out for myself. I've decided to pass on my thoughts.

First of all, don't buy the book expecting Hamilton, Banks or anyone of that ilk. As this is not the same scale, style or general read. However, it is entertaining, fairly fast paced, and a good overall idea (as mentioned before).

The main issue is it's just not as deep as other books I've read.

My advice would be not to expect too much and you "should" enjoy it. I've recently got into Neal Asher I would recommend him if you have finished most of Hamilton and Bank's work.

Hope this is helpful.
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on 28 December 2008
"Stealing Light" was a great read - I swept through it very quickly. The action moves through a series of settings, roughly aligned with the three parts of the book, and each setting is driven by different but overlapping concerns. The ending was good but seemed to be a rather sudden turn-around in the last page or two. I can't help but think that there was a better book lurking in here which weaves the plot strands a little more elegantly.

This might sound like a negative review but despite all this I really enjoyed the book and liked the ideas behind the plot. I felt the book had some resonances with themes in the "Babylon 5" TV series. I'll be trying one of Mr Gibson's other books.
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on 21 March 2011
I'm always excited at finding a new author - especially one with at least 3 novels to look forward to - and the premise of Stealing Light, ancient technology discovered and explored, is one of my favourites. The writing is in my opinion nowhere near as bad as some reviewers have suggested and while some areas of the plot are rather obvious, they are not more so than many other well-received works.

My only criticisms would be that the book attempts a massive scope - a truly vast operatic scale - that perhaps becomes unwieldy and more complex than necessary in this first book of the sequence. I felt a more tightly focused, more closely edited and controlled approach would have increased the excitement and taken out some of the more 'slack' sections.

Yes, it would be easy to compare to other works utilising 'found' alien technology and interactions with alien races but these are common themes in science-fiction and should in my opinion be considered stock elements of the genre just as murder and deceit are stock elements of the crime novel.

I had no hesitation in downloading the sequel (Nova War (Shoal Sequence)) when I finished this first book and look forward to reading it.
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on 13 October 2008
This is a strange read from beginning to end. The plot was either frustratingly obvious, with the characters piecing it together like a drunk attempting a jigsaw puzzle, or just confusing, with random leaps of logic. There were some great ideas in there, original and solid, but the delivery was a little off. It's also worth saying that I'd read the next in the trilogy, if only to find out what happens next as the ending a very abrupt (and a little daft). Not a bad holiday read.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 27 August 2011
Good, or even great, sci-fi space epics are, unfortunately, fairly few and far between. Some read in a very formulaic way; some are superficial and not thought through. This book, the first in a trilogy, has clearly been very thoroughly thought through by the author.

I found the beginning a bit confusing - leaping chapter to chapter through different times in the ensuing story made for a rather unnecessary confusion that a chronological narrative would not, I felt, have done. While I can understand the author wanting to get right into the action and grab the reader's interest, I felt that this undermined a coherent and cohesive beginning to the book for a few chapters. However, once you got all that straight in your mind, the action moved along very briskly.

The only other grumble I have is that the `heroine' character seems a bit of a mass of contradictions - for someone with her background, and with her AI implants etc., she seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in the book naked and/or weeping. A bit odd, I thought. However, as the book progressed and we saw more action from the perspective of other, male, characters, this slight annoyance seemed to be more of a background issue than in the first part of the book.

The world that this book is set in reminded me of the Deathstalker worlds (series of novels by Simon R Green) - implants, `Ghost' technology, AIs, weapons of mass destruction, alien species, debauchery in the world lived in by the disgustingly rich and powerful - but that's not a bad thing. It's as valid a `future' or `alternative' reality as any, and, well-written, is highly entertaining for the reader. I loved the Deathstalker novels, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book - hopefully the following books will be just as entertaining and action-packed. Certainly by the end of this first part of the trilogy the setup for further action and intrigue seemed to be well under way.
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The 26th Century. Humanity has gained access to the stars thanks to the Shoal, the only race in the Galaxy to have developed a transluminal drive. Humanity leases space on the great Shoal coreships as they make a circuit of inhabited systems in the Orion Spiral Arm. The Shoal guard the secrets of FTL jealously and even murderously, so when a human colony discovers an ancient alien derelict in the Nova Arctis system, apparently with a still-functional FTL drive, the colonists make the decision to secretly extract and replicate the drive for themselves.

However, the alien ship is guarded by ancient software protocols and defence systems that ordinary humans cannot overcome. To this end, Dakota Merrick (a 'machine-head' with illegal brain implants) and Lucas Corso (an expert in computer language) are drafted in to help with the retrieval operation. Needless to say, the operation does not go as planned, for both the Shoal and their enemies are one step ahead of the game...

Stealing Light is the opening novel in The Shoal Sequence, a space opera trilogy which is - hooray! - now complete (the later volumes are Nova War and Empire of Light). It is a fast-paced, fiendishly readable SF novel built on an intriguing premise (one alien race in the Galaxy controls FTL and rations it to its vassal species very grudgingly) which is then expanded and explored in a very logical fashion (the FTL drive has some intriguing side-effects which the Shoal don't want other races to find out about) and delivered through some effective action set-pieces and some solid character-building, with Dakota Merrick being a fine SF heroine, albeit a hugely flawed one. Dakota is haunted by events in her past, some of which she is using to excuse her dubious actions in the present through some questionable rationalisations, which makes her a sympathetic character only up to the point you realise she's avoiding taking full responsibility for her actions, at which point she becomes more interesting.

One thing that Stealing Light is not is original. In fact, the book is positively magpie-like in its picking of concepts and ideas from other works. The Shoal-vassal relationship recalls David Brin's Uplift books, whilst the recovery of an alien derelict harbouring major plot revelations has been done to death. The subversion of cybernetic technology via virulent computer viruses that can snatch away a person's violition has also been handled to some degree by Alastair Reynolds in his Revelation Space books, whilst the book's central doomsday macguffin is something that will be very familiar to Peter F. Hamilton fans. To those well-versed in space opera, this might be slightly irritating, but generally I found the book's pace, verve and page-turning energy (not to mention a fine line in dark humour) to more than make up for these originality shortcomings.

One area which could have been handled better is the depiction of the alien races. The Shoal (an aquatic species of sentient fish who float around is giant, suspended fields of water) are pretty human in thought and deed and rather unconvincing as alien beings, although the splendidly-named Trader-in-Faecal-Matter-of-Animals is a complex and intriguing antagonist. In terms of structure the book is also a little repetitive, with Dakota and Corso spending most of the book being captured, escaping, making desperate deals, being captured, escaping again and so on like a mid-1970s Doctor Who serial. Gibson just about manages to avoid it being a major issue, but the characters lacking the ability to affect the plot themselves and being at the mercy of various outside forces until the endgame of the book gets a little wearying after a while.

Stealing Light (****) is a well-paced, fun space opera novel and a solid opening to a promising trilogy. The novel is available now in the UK and on import in the USA.
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on 30 September 2009
I got this from the library, somewhat tentatively, as I like space opera, but the cover didn't have any positive reviews. I read it very quickly, it's an easy read, and things keep happening. There's a nice moment early on where a character knows something of the backstory and seems to be about to reveal it to another character who instead has him assassinated. But that's how suspense works here: characters explain what's happening, and they're only kept for explaining even more by senseless violence.
There are many good points. I like the aliens: they're not humanoid, there aren't too many of them, their names (with one exception) are what we call them, rather than some silly attempt to invent alien sounding words (lots of xs, zs, etc). He doesn't explain how a bunch of fish who didn't invent fire came to rule the galaxy, but the big concepts - long-ago wars in the magellanic clouds, ftl being known to only one alien race are fun.
It's not a book that it's worth thinking about too much. It's better than an explanation will make it seem. How could one man decode all the programming on an alien starship in a few weeks? There's too much emphasis on implants controlling their wearer without that person's knowledge. I realise that the backstory here serves two purposes: it sets up tension between characters who end as allies, and it primes the reader for the main character being taken over again. But then it happens a third time, and my belief suspenders were getting a little overstretched.
Unlike another reviewer, I quite liked the writing, generally. I just hated the ending, which couldn't come soon enough. It was clear to me that Gibson had put too much work into this universe to leave it as a single novel, and that there had to be a sequel, so the protagonists were going to survive and carry on somehow.
But I'll read the next book, and in all probability the one(s) after that. If you get bored, you can always have fun trying to spot the influences/references. The Freehold seem to be partly based on the society in Heinlein's Starship Troopers, with a wink to the alternate universe of the Star Trek "Mirror, Mirror" episode, and perhaps some Klingon sociology. There's an alien homeworld travelling through the galaxy - shades of Niven's "Known Space."
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on 28 November 2010
On a positive note there are some good ideas here, most of all the one underpinning the plot. Brain implants get an interesting treatment.

However, the book is too long for the amount of material it covers and the quality of the writing ranges between shoddy and adequate. Too much of the background is presented in a way that looks like it's the author's working notes, with dialogue and action added around it later. The characters are one-dimensional and the (female) main character is a tiresome exercise in wish-fulfillment for teenage boys. I didn't care about any of them and I had to make an effort to remember what was supposed to be motivating each of them. Also, while largely good, the main plot concept is a little too far-fetched but the characters seem to accept it without much question when they are presented with it.

Too much of it seemed very derivative: anyone who has not read Iain M Banks and Alistair Reynolds would do well to graduate to their work instead and read the same stuff (some of it almost identical, in fact) given a much better treatment.

I would have given the book two stars but for the fact that I plan to read the second in the sequence to see how it carries on and whether it improves: something in there must have interested me enough for it to deserve three stars.
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on 3 September 2008
The story is really strong and there are some excellent ideas here. The ending is also very good - I thought there would probably be some sort of 'get-out' but there wasn't - the characters have to live with the results of their actions.

But this book is just so badly written. The continual use of really over-the-top metaphor just reduces the whole thing to almost a pastiche of Flash Gordon - it is so 'gee-whizz' that it really started wearing me down. Yet I got through it - and I got through it because the ideas were so strong.

I think comparing it to early Alistair Reynolds is probably fair - but I actually got through this, whereas I simply gave up on Revelation Space. Give him his due, Reynolds has improved considerably since then. His latest - House of Suns - is a good read. So here's hoping Mr Gibson improves likewise.

What am I going to do when the next one comes out? Torn between the lure of some really powerful sci-fi ideas and the complete turn-off of a positively juvenile literary style; well, to be honest, I'll probably buy it. If you've ever read any early Alfred Bester (not including The Stars My Destination), you'll know that substance can definitely make up for form. :-)
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