So it finally happened. An ereader entered my hands for Christmas. My wife has been enjoying the one I bought for her birthday so much, and there is a growing library out there not available in paper. I’m not going to get rid of my dead trees, but my circuits will live in harmony with them. The first thing I jumped at was The Apocalypse Ocean by Tobias Buckell. That’s the novel he funded with Kickstarter back at the front end of this year. This post about his experience should be required reading for anyone thinking about Kickstarter. All for new ways for writers to get their words out there but I was a bit bummed out that it was $50 to get a hard cover copy. Once the books went out into the world, everything I’ve heard is that they’re very high quality copies. But fifty bucks is a lot of walking around money for one book, especially since mass market paperback is my preferred format. I have a little kiddo, got to maximize my book money.
So I pounced now that I’ve got the technology.
Back of the book… er… back of the nook? Um… Summary time?
Humanity continues to gain control of the Forty Eight Worlds as they deorbit wormholes and join the many worlds and civilizations together. But as they do so, they must deal with the horrors of past injustices as humanity forms new societies out of the wreckage of the old.
And some of those horrors aren’t content to rest. Kay, who has rescued herself from a hellish life dominated by uncaring alien creatures, seeks bloody twisted revenge for what was done to her.
And a new force is not happy about the manner in which the Forty Eight worlds are reshaping themselves. In fact, it’s about to put a stop to it all.
This is book four of the series that began with Crystal Rain. Sly Mongoose, which I read earlier this year, is book three. Part of the beauty of these books is that you can jump right in without getting lost. You get enough of the overarching story that you’re not clueless if it has been a while. All the pieces of the saga are told from different points of view. Pepper is still our overarching hero and the catalyst for Ocean but he’s not the proper point-of-view protag here. The aforementioned Kay, teenaged ganglord, and Tiago, pickpocket who bumps into the wrong person, are our proper main characters.
The Survivor is a character type I find inherently interesting because they’re always the ones who live in a moral grey area. Black and white are much harder to make interesting than grey. Tiago is the more likable of the two main characters living on the fringes of society. He gets swept up in way over his head but he’s a real smart guy. Of course, being a smart thief is why he drew all the attention that pulled in into the action. Tiago doesn’t start out as the most active character, hard to do when surrounded by so many strong personalities like Kay, Nashara and later on, Pepper. But Tiago evolves and changes for the better with a very solid character arc.
Kay is a Survivor too, but much farther along on her path even though she is younger. She’s a bona fide ganglord in a rough and tumble town. That makes her a lot less likable, but as Ocean progresses, Kay becomes much more understandable. I don’t want to ruin anything so I’ll awkwardly tiptoe around it. She’s got very distinct way of thinking about the people around her. It seems almost alien, but it makes sense. When we finally get to find out the reasons, Kay becomes one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a while. There were times I felt Kay overshadowed Tiago and I was wanting more of her.
The prose flows between kinetic and thoughtful. Blasting through firefights and “downtime” both feel natural. Things are always moving even when they’re standing still. It’s a writing style that pulls you along making the book hard to put down. The grander parts of the Xenowealth saga come into play farther along in Ocean. If I didn’t know better, it would be easy to figure on this book being a standalone with references that tie it in with the others rather than a proper installment. Wouldn’t bother me even if I did get it wrong because I like discovering how one narrative relates to another, but I don’t think that’s a universal feeling. I enjoyed finding out how all the “local” events fit into the larger scheme of things. None of it is ever forced and I found the plotting pretty streamlined.
The plotting leads right into the world building. I think Buckell is one of the best, both here in the Xenowealth books and the near-future Arctic Rising. One of the Kickstarter goals for Ocean commissioned some original artwork for a map. I love maps! They don’t show up in SF as much as they used to and it’s something that needs to come back. The wormhole map of the Forty Eight Worlds is wonderfully done and shows all the worlds that haven’t even been mentioned yet. There’s even one called Pawtucket, although uh! The Bucket… It’s a pretty nasty place. There are better towns in Rhode Island to name a planet after. Tangent over with, there is so much potential for expansion with the Forty Eight Worlds, they all had aliens before humanity showed up. The diversity of realms already seen in the series makes all those blips on the map tantalizing.
I will always love my dead tree books. But Apocalypse Ocean is my favorite book of Buckell’s to date and the exact reason why I have an ereader now. Publishing is diversifying so reading habits need to diversify along with it. For my first ebook, I was not disappointed.