A while back, “Tobias Buckell mentioned”:http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/wordpress/?p=2271 that he might have a few extra copies of his book Crystal Rain, if anyone wanted to put in a request for a copy to read and review. So I went ahead and put my name in and was pleasantly surprised to receive a copy a couple of weeks ago. I was amused that my wife, who claims that she’s not really a fan of science fiction, ‘kidnapped’ the book and wouldn’t let me have it back until she was done with it. Fortunately, she’s a pretty fast reader, and I had it back within a couple of days.
There are some spoilers beyond this point, so if you would rather keep things a surprise, this would be a good place to stop reading.
It’s rare that I come across a science fiction novel that I don’t enjoy, and _Crystal Rain_ is no exception to that rule. I found it to be a very entertaining and enjoyable novel. The story is set on a faraway planet where the dominant culture is Caribbean. The island is divided by the Wicked High Mountains, separating the peaceful Nanagadans from the warrior Azteca. The conflict in the book arises when the Azteca find a way to breach the Wicked Highs and invade Nanagada to capture, kill, and enslave the people.
The book starts out somewhat slowly as we become acquainted with John deBrun, the story’s main character and hero. John is a man with no memory beyond the last 27 years, but the Azteca invasion – and a long-lost friend named Pepper – is going to force him to face his past once again.
The Caribbean accent in the character dialogue was a little bit of a hurdle at first. The syntax and flow took some getting used to, but after a while the rhythm gets established in your mind and the reading flows much more smoothly.
For most of the book, there are only clues and hints of what the original Nanagadan culture was like. The people of the island frequently refer to the ‘old fathers,’ the original men who landed on the planet and terraformed it to allow human habitation. Parents still tell their children stories of a great battle that destroyed nearly all the technology of that time, stranding the people on this planet. We also learn that the humans are caught between two warring factions of an alien race. The Azteca are ruled by the Tetol, a vicious faction who demand human blood sacrifices. The Loa are the opposing faction who prefer to manipulate humanity to their own ends. It was the war between these factions that was, ultimately, the cause for humanity’s stranding on this planet, the destruction of the wormhole that brought them here, and the loss of the technology they once had.
The best part of the whole book was the last third, when John regains his memories, and hence the functionality of his implants, and we see a remnant of the original technology of the old fathers. This is where the action really takes off and we realize that the events taking place are bigger than just this single planet. We begin to understand how much the events happening here will play a significant role in the fate of humanity on all the worlds they have settled. John and Pepper sweep in to save the Nanagadans from certain destruction, with the promise that he will soon (relatively speaking) take the fight back out to space to warn humanity and prevent an impending Tetol invasion of all worlds.
There is a lot of story to be developed and explored in subsequent volumes. Hopefully in that process more of John and Pepper’s backstory will be revealed. The struggle moves to the stars now, as the Tetol work to restore access to the wormhole, and subsequently to the armies waiting on the other end.
One minor quibble – it was odd to me that _Crystal Rain_ was chosen as the title for this book, when the phrase was mentioned only once in the book and didn’t even really play an integral role in the story’s development. It felt to me like the choice of title was almost arbitrary.
All in all, _Crystal Rain_ was a good read, and I’ll be curious to see how the story develops in the next book, _Ragamuffin_.