ARC Review: Dark Orbit

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in a tor.com sweepstakes. This has in no way affected my review.

DarkOrbit

 

From Goodreads:

Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she’s been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.

Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.

Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.

I had essentially no expectations going into this book–which is unusual for me, these days. Most everything I pick up is either by an author I already know and trust, or upon the recommendation of a large number of friends. My TBR pile is just too big to allow for much else. But I had a review copy of this one, and one of my goals for this year was to start reviewing the books I win in sweepstakes–or why else enter them? So, I read this one.

And I was very pleasantly surprised. The book combines a number of very exciting, interesting elements that I did not expect, and it makes for a quite interesting read. Much of it has some very intriguing scientific basis, and I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity it showed.

The first cool idea is that of the wasters, which grows naturally from the teleportation in the book. The teleportation accepts the limits of lightspeed–but still allows for transportation to seem instantaneous to the user. In essence, to travel 9 light-years away, you also have to travel 9 light-years into the future–and there’s no going back. The explorers of the society have been dubbed wasters, those who travel so often that politics, families, etc. all have little meaning to them. Our main POV character, Sara, is a waster, and the jumps in time that she goes through give her a really cool background–and bring up some questions I’d honestly never asked myself.

But that’s just a small part of it, and almost brushed aside just as a piece of world-building. The real story here is about an accidental first contact with s species of blind humans in a location 54 light-years away from the closest civilization, all set on a planet dangerously near completely undecipherable clumps of dark matter, covered (among other things) with strange multi-dimensional forests that are truly mind-boggling.

The world-building–or perhaps I should say worlds-building–here is superb, but it never gets in the way of the story, and the story is brilliant. I can’t say too much about it without spoiling things, but I will say that it plays to the strong points of science fiction while always being, at its core, a story about the characters, the main group of which are extremely well sketched out.

If I had any complaints with the book, they would be with the ending. Before then, it seemed that things might have a scientific explanation, but some of the character actions and abilities shown near the end verge on magic, which I was not expecting from the science fiction setting. Then again, it’s not like we’ve never had a story where the main character saves the day by shooting torpedoes down an impossible shaft that nobody else can hit by using a mysterious magical power at the end of a science fiction story, so… Your mileage may vary. Just be aware that if you’re looking for pure hard-sf, you will be a little disappointed.

And while I’m on the subject, the science fiction that is mentioned here is really cool. Parts of the novel felt like The Three-Body Problem–except they were exciting the whole time.

The book works very well as a stand-alone, and I did not realize until I was doing some research after reading that it’s not the only book that Gilman has written in this universe–and I’m definitely going to be picking up the other one, and reading it when I can fit it in my schedule.

In summary, Dark Orbit was a complete surprise–and a delightful one, with some really cool science-based world-building, great characters, and a plot that kept me interested the entire time. Even if the ending wasn’t perfectly what I was expecting, the novel as a whole was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and I give it a hearty four of five stars.

Also, check out this really cool guest post that she did over at The Book Smugglers.

Dark Orbit on Goodreads.

 

 

Book Review: The Burning Dark

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher, and I’ve just finished reading it.

Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland, called Ida, was a hero. While he was captain, he led a fleet into battle against the spiders, AIs than can eat planets, and even stars. And, against all odds, he won the battle. Now, left with an achy robotic knee as a memento of the battle, Ida has been sent to oversee the last stages of the disassembling of the U-Star Coast City, a Fleet space station. He doesn’t know why he’s been sent to the station, and neither do the remaining crew members, none of whom have heard of his exploits, which should be legend, even in this backwater system. Ida is very frustrated by these events.

The U-Star Coast city sits in the same solar system as the star Shadow. That’s why it was put here in the first place–to study the strange, potentially deadly, purple star. The light from the star begins to mess with Ida almost as soon as he is in the system, and soon it shuts down the standard lightspeed communications, and appears to be playing havoc with the station’s internal systems, particularly those for lighting and atmosphere. This gives the station an eerie feel, and sets almost everyone, who, to the last man, want to be done with this job and gone, on edge.

Cut off from the rest of the galaxy, with the crew beginning to hate him, Ida turns to his hobbies, creating a radio that he quickly uses to listen to illegal frequencies. The only problem is, he doesn’t know why they’re illegal. When he finds a hypnotizing distress call echoing on one of the frequencies, he becomes obsessed with the origin. Things just get stranger from there, as crew start to disappear, and the mysteries, such as the location of the station’s commandant, seem to multiply.

It took me nearly a month to read this book, but that’s my fault. I simply haven’t had much time to read lately. I enjoyed the book. It’s not my usual fare; I’m much more into fantasy than sci-fi, and longer rather than shorter books (At 336 pages, this is by no means a short book. I’m just used to 900+). Never the less, I enjoyed this one. It proves that good writing transcends genres, and can be enjoyed regardless of what your tastes are.

This book is not without its flaws, though. The characters often feel one dimensional; every hobby and bit of back-story that I can remember is only there because it serves the plot in some way, and I don’t know anything about the characters apart from that.

The characters can also be dense, sometimes. There were parts of the book where I was frustrated at the characters because I had realized something of what was going on, and the characters did not for another fifty or hundred pages. However, much of this may have been because of the way the book jumps from viewpoint to viewpoint, including teaser viewpoints that show some of what is going on behind the scenes, or something that happened years ago that will be instrumental to the plot in a few chapters.

However, the characters, despite their flaws, are also convincingly real. While I would have loved to see more back story and quirks from them, I thought they were psychologically well done. Not only do they have an authentic gritty feel to them, the sense of impending despair that sets in as the star’s light affects them, and other events happen in the second half of the book, is very convincing. There were several times, when I stopped reading, that I had to remind myself that it was the characters in mental anguish, not myself, and that I needed to relax. I love it when a book can immerse me so fully in the character’s mentalities that I have to remind myself that I’m not them.

The pacing of the book seemed a hair slow, but keep in mind, I read it over the course of the month, and I’m used to reading 1000+ page books in 3 days. Given the length of the book, and the amount of action, I’m going to say this was a misperception on my part. I’m guessing that if I’d read this book at my normal pace, and it had taken me a day, or at most two, then I would have thought it very quickly paced. The tension throughout is constant, and there aren’t dull moments. However, because of the number of mysteries and amount of confusion, I would recommend against reading too hastily, and instead reading a little more carefully.

The ending was satisfying and well fore-shadowed, with no deus-ex-machina or other surprises that can ruin endings. I liked it, and felt that it held the book together well, making the read worth it.

Overall, I’d give this book 4 of 5 stars, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading, if you can handle the darker side of things, as the book is quite dark. Also, a content warning: Lots of swearing, and while the descriptions not graphic, there is at least implied sex/nudity.

The Burning Dark will be out in March of 2014 (Sorry to tease you so far ahead of time.) from Tor. Links:

Amazon

Goodreads

Adam Christopher