Tobias Buckell, Sly Mongoose [Library of Babel]

This is a review way in advance of the publication of the book-- it's not due until August, or thereabouts-- but I got an advance copy of Tobias Buckell's forthcoming Sly Mongoose, and read it at DAMOP. You might think this is an odd venue-- wouldn't the exhausting nature of the conference tend to make it difficult to get any reading done? How could a novel really hold my attention? Well, here's an excerpt from the first chapter (which I heard Toby read at Boskone):

A tiny buzz in Pepper's ear got his attention. He yawned, eardrums popping. His dreadlocks, bunched up inside the helmet, scraped against each other as a young-sounding male voice piped up in Pepper's helmet. The man sounded bored with a side of professional neutral. For the man behind that particular voice, this was just another shift, just another day. "Unidentified reentry vehicle, this is Eupatoria Port Authority, come in."

Air thundered past Pepper, buffeting him.

"Hello Eupatoria," Pepper said. The spacesuit's radio still worked. That would be helpful.

"Yes, unidentified vehicle, your transponder seems to be down."

Pepper threw out his arms to maximize drag. "I don't have a transponder."

"That's a finable offense," the voice replied. "What are you de-orbiting in? We're having trouble tracking you."

Pepper explained the situation in brief while scanning the horizon.

There was a long pause on the other end. Then a polite cough. "You de-orbited with a handmade heat-shield and an armored spacesuit?"

"The situation was complicated..."

Any book that starts with the protagonist de-orbiting in a spacesuit with a handmade heat shield is worth staying up a little late for.

The book is split between sections following Pepper, the superhuman assassin character who has appeared in the previous two books, and Timas, a young man descended from the Azteca culture that appeared in the first book (they're members of the Reform branch of the Azteca religion, and don't do human sacrifice any more). Pepper quite literally crashes into Timas's city on the Venus-like world of Chilo, where the people live in floating cities high above the sulfuric acid clouds, crushing pressure, and 800-degree heat of the surface.

The setting sounds somewhat absurd at first, but the plausibility has been extensively worked out by Geoff Landis, an honest-to-God planetary scientist, and it really would work. It provides material for all sorts of wonderfully pulpy adventures, though-- dirigible chases through the acid clouds, surface mining in armored suits, and an actual collision of floating cities. And, of course, there's the main plot, which involves an invasion by "groaning, stumbling, dumb-as-fuck, old-school zombies."

It's great fun, pulp adventure cut together with a great space opera setting, with some great worldbuilding and a bit of social commentary mixed in. Timas and his culture are very well drawn, and Buckell gives him some issues that are unusual for the genre, but interestingly logical. The book also provides a little more insight into what makes Pepper tick, though its main pleasure is just watching him kick ass.

It's a little hard to say whether this would make any sense to someone who hadn't read the previous two books. There's a fair bit of incluing built in, but it depends on its predecessors more than Ragamuffin did-- if nothing else, you'll miss a bunch of references if you haven't read the first two. But then, they're also excellent, so why not go get them to read while you wait for Sly Mongoose to come out?

If you have read and enjoyed the previous two, you won't be disappointed. Buckell delivers the same elements that made the first two fun to read, without repeating himself at all. The universe of the books continues to expand in interesting ways, and while the book has a satisfying resolution, there's clearly room for many more stories in this setting, and it'll be interesting to see where this goes next.

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Thank you! After reading your review I picked up the first two. Just finished Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin and now I can't wait to read this one.