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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

“Chaos Space” by Marianne de Pierres (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

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INTRODUCTION: When the Sentients of Orion series was first announced by Marianne de Pierres, Australian author of the fun Parrish Plessis trilogy, I had high expectations. The first book in the series, “Dark Space”, was pretty good, but focused on Araldis at the expense of the bigger picture and was bit underwhelming. I still liked it a lot though and looked forward to reading the sequel, “Chaos Space”. And I have to say that with “Chaos Space”, the series is starting to live up to its potential as a blockbuster space opera…

SETTING: The general setting of the series is The Orion League of Sentient Species—OLOSS—a federated multi-polity, multi-race, technologically advanced, galactic civilization. However, the League’s neighbors are the strange and potentially hostile Extropian Planets, with only the famous “humanesque” Commander Lasper “Carnage” Farr acting as a buffer between the two.

The League believes in stability—some would say stultifying innovation in the process—and letting evolution take its natural course, so genetic modifications are strictly controlled as are DNA-altering substances. The Extropians on the other hand, want to accelerate evolution and become transcendent. Unfortunately, they are dependent on League smugglers for much of the technology necessary in their evolution.

All of the main characters in the series are Orion citizens and they mostly believe the official story—that the dastardly Extropians attacked innocent League civilians. But as the series progresses, we start discerning a number of undercurrents about the “bigger picture”. Of the characters we have:

“Baroness” Mira Fedor is a noblewoman of Araldis, a backwater planet with a macho “Latin” culture in which women are relegated to servant or breeding status. However, Mira has an innate “Talent” to meld with an advanced space-faring sentient life-form called a Biozoon that powers the most sophisticated interstellar craft available. So, Mira is quite an unusual woman for her culture and gets to pilot the one biozoon ship Araldis has under contract.

Jo-Jo Rasterovich is the loner, silent masculine type, piloting his own biozoon ship and working as a successful asteroid miner. Then one day, on the fringe of Orion space, he discovers a mysterious and seemingly all-knowing and all-powerful entity called Sole, which some believe is an incarnation of God. Famous or infamous forever as the “God-discoverer”, Jo-Jo finds his life turned upside down, especially after entering into an ill-advised partnership with Tekton.

Tekton is an ambitious, hedonistic, and unscrupulous member of one of the most advanced Orion cultures. When Sole was discovered, it agreed to let OLOSS establish a research station near it, and to interact directly with selected league candidates called “tyros” or “Godheads” to whom it may bestow useful boons and powers if it so chooses. There is intense competition for the privilege of being a “tyro” and by judicious scheming Tekton becomes one and is granted some small favors by Sole. However, Tekton puts into motion an ambitious plan that may grant him unprecedented favor from the Entity, even though it involves sacking backward planets, killing countless innocents, ruining Jo-Jo and other collateral damage.

Moving on, Thales is a very intelligent and handsome young man on the so-called intellectual capital of the League, planet Scolar. He is also completely impractical, living up to the Scolar reputation as a planet of “nerds”. With a penchant for older women, and actually married to the mature daughter of the Scolar’s “Eminence” leader, Thales seems destined for fame and achievement. But he finds Scolar stifling and wants to become a “Godhead” to the dismay of his wife and father in-law.

“Principe” Trin Rinaldi is a spoiled brat. Heir to the Araldis principate, his father planned to rip Mira's talent from her and transfer it to Trin. But the invasion and sacking of Araldis throws Trin into the thick of events as the new Principe who has to rally the resistance against the invaders. And to top things off, he falls in love with what the nobility of Araldis regards as an abomination, or at least an outcast—a half-human, half-alien Myo girl who proves herself quite resourceful in helping Trin and his followers & allies evade capture and death.

Other important characters appearing in the series and this novel include the aforementioned “Carnage” Farr, his wayward sister who has a strange taste in men, Mira’s biozoon ship Insignia, and her mercenary allies.

Where “Dark Space” focused mainly on Araldis, relegating Sole and the bigger picture events to Interludes, “Chaos Space’s” attention is turned primarily on the story’s larger-scale issues…

FORMAT/INFO:Chaos Space” stands at 395 pages divided over many small chapters prefaced by the name of the POV from which the action is seen. There are five threads corresponding with the five POVs: Mira, Trin, Thales, Jo-Jo and Tekton, with cryptic interludes from Sole. The narration takes place simultaneously in the novel’s present with the threads converging towards the end, only to split back apart while setting up events for the highly anticipated “Mirror Space” next year. The conclusion to the Sentients of Orion series, “Transformation Space”, will be out in 2010. November 6, 2008 marks the UK Paperback Publication of “Chaos Space” via
Orbit UK. Cover designed by Blacksheep.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: We ended “Dark Space” with Mira barely escaping Araldis in Insignia and seeking aid from the League, Trin coalescing the resistance around the remnants of his forces, Jo-Jo falsely imprisoned on Araldis’ orbital station due to Tekton's machinations, Thales growing more and more dissatisfied with Scolar after his application to become a “tyro” had been rejected, and Tekton delighting in his scheme to impress the Entity.

Chaos Space” starts from here, and though it takes a while to get going with all the future jargon and setting, the book delivers with nonstop action and an incredible sense of wonder, making it hard to put down…

Rebuffed by the League, Mira has to find help everywhere so where could she turn?

Thales has issues with both his wife and the planet Scolar. Unfortunately, when your father in-law is the leader of the planet, such issues are not a good idea, so Thales gets imprisoned as a warning and then forced into exile. Luckily he hooks up with Mira, Jo-Jo and Bethany, but his penchant for naiveté may land him into even more trouble. Can Thales find his “common sense” and use his powerful intellect in a practical way, rather than being a “floating toy” at the whim of powerful people?

Jo-Jo is angry. And angering the “God-discoverer” is not a good idea, however empty that title may be. But despite his resourcefulness, he seems at the end of the rope imprisoned in orbit above a backward planet where disaster strikes, his end near. However, Jo-Jo makes some useful friends in prison, most notably the mysterious Bethany, and they escape together. Jo-Jo dreams only of his vengeance against Tekton while Bethany wants her daughter back.

Trin Rinaldi showed his despicable side at the end of “Dark Space”, though he merely followed the ways of his culture and his family in what he believed would be for the ultimate good of Araldis and his dynasty. But now he is trying harder to save his followers and maybe even fight back, while his affection for the half-Myo girl Djeserit continues to grow despite all he has been taught. Will Trin redeem himself or will his selfish side prevail?

Lastly, Tekton is quite pleased with himself after his “masterful” plan is put into motion and Jo-Jo punished for his insolence. Using his skills for intrigue, blackmail and underhanded dealing, he moves even closer to his goal of becoming the supreme Godhead. Will the collateral damage of his actions finally catch up with him, or will his dastardly plans come to fruition?

Wide-screen space opera at its best, the Sentients of Orion comes into its own with this superb and highly recommended second installment, which continues in Marianne de Pierres’ much anticipated “Mirror Space”…

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