Thursday, June 05, 2008

Tobias Buckell: Ragamuffin

Tobias Buckell's Ragamuffin is a finalist for the Prometheus award. Buckell describes it as "Caribbean space opera", and it definitely has a Caribbean feel to it. In this story, humans are one of several interstellar-faring species dominated by "the benevolent satrapy", but the only one that we see visibly chafing at the Satrapy's tight control over commerce and technology. Most of the humans we see or hear about numbly accept the domination, but a few among the space traveling people are part of the resistance, and are trying to find a way to fight free.

The story follows Nashara, a genetically enhanced agent, with an implanted computer virus targeted at the Satrapy's systems, and Pepper, an extremely long-lived agent currently trapped on a world at the far end of the worm-hole trail that connects the worlds of the Satrapy. Both have superhuman reflexes, observation powers, and are close to invulnerable, so they're pretty unstoppable—but they still need to find a way to attack their oppressors.

Nashara joins a resistance movement on the planet where she's been marooned long enough to assassinate a local official in exchange for transit off-planet. Once in orbit, she finds a sequence of positions on trading ships that take her closer to where she expects the action to be. Along the way, we encounter various factions and agents who will reappear later.

Pepper's current world is dominated by a faction that in, technology and government, recreates the Aztecs; it's a pretty bloody place to live. But it's a good place to wait for the reappearance of the Teotl, an advanced race that may be willing to help fight the Satrapy, since the broken wormhole they disappeared through years before is still visible in the night sky. Of course, the Teotl do reappear, fleeing their own (even more enhanced) enemy.

The story is engaging, and the characters are interesting, but the main characters' superior powers make the fights' conclusions too obvious. There are interesting subplots on many different worlds and ships, exploring megalomania, mind control, uploading, closed economies, and more.

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