Shadow Captain (Revenger series book 2) by Alastair Reynolds (book review).

December 27, 2019 | By | Reply More

There are two schools of thought regarding space travel in fiction. One is to stick to the science as we know it and keep the space-going vessels below the speed of light, the other is to embrace the idea that we will eventually find ways to breech the light-speed barrier either by developing the technology ourselves or utilising ‘found’ drives left behind by more advanced aliens.

With the vast distances between stars, travelling at sub-light speeds can seriously impair the pace of a narrative of a story that has taken on the mantle of space opera. The variety of drives and inhabited systems can be very imaginative.

The system inhabited by the Ness sisters in ‘Shadow Captain’ has, at some time in the very distant past, been dismantled and rebuilt. There are some planetary bodies but the vast amount of material from the original system has been used to create the Congregation of habitats of various kinds. Some have a ‘swallower’ at their heart to provide gravity. Interspersed between habitable places are ‘baubles’. These are bodies that are assumed to have alien origin as they have complex protective shields and getting inside them is hazardous.

The rewards, though, are enormous as artefacts found inside can sometimes be worth a fortune. Thus, some space-going ships are crewed by people who seek out and search the baubles for ‘treasure’. The complex system of baubles and habitats has seen civilisations rise and fall and not all of them human. The residents of the current Occupation, the thirteenth, are mostly human.

This is the second book in the ‘Revenger’ series and the title of the first. At the end of it, the Ness sisters, Arafura and Adrana, were among the small group who defeated and killed the notorious pirate Bosa Sennen. Now in control of her ship, they are not out of danger. Pursued by an unknown vessel, running low on supplies and, with an injured shipmate in need of medical attention, they need to put in at some port. One of the problems is that the renamed Nightjammer is recognisable as the pirate everyone wants to destroy.

When the ship does dock on a remote wheel-shaped habitat, we are treated to rich descriptions of a society falling apart. The whole place is a slum but it does have medical facilities and it is there that Arafura hopes to contact someone who knows where Bosa Sennen stashed her hoard of quoins, artefacts that are used as currency.

One of the joys of reading a book of this calibre is that it constantly has the capacity to surprise. The cast of characters is kept relatively small and the action contained. At no time are they lulled into complacency even though they made mistakes. The fact of them being on a spacecraft puts them permanently at peril. The decrepit wheel habitat has the feel of something in imminent danger of falling apart and is reminiscent of the seedy world depicted in ‘Blade Runner’.

The set-up of the community of worlds and habitats is intriguing and although the characters know the principle of its formation, they don’t know who constructed it. During the exploration of the tiny fraction of this system, other mysteries come to the fore, especially why the Occupations appear to happen at regular intervals. Always, the reader is engaged with the situation, the characters and the mysteries. The pace never lets up.

If there is any criticism, it is that insufficient is made of life aboard the ship and how the personnel cope with the minimal gravity. It is easy to forget weightlessness.

Pauline Morgan

January 2019

(pub: Gollancz, 2018. 424 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-09063-7)

check out websites: www.gollancz.co.uk, www.orionbooks.co.uk and alastairreynolds.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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