This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Next up, we had In the Orbit of Sirens, The Song of Kamaria Book 1, by T.A. Bruno. This is the last book in the semi-finals round for my Team Space Lasagna reviews, although I may read some more of the semi-finalists and review them if I get a chance and there will be more to come in the finals round later this month.
How was this book? Well, let me tell you. I’m mad. Hopping mad, I say! And why?
Well, you know the movie Avatar, right? Came out in like 2009, they’ve been threatening us with sequels for a solid decade? Bullshit Dances with Pocahontas plot? No actual Airbenders in it? You know the one.
Anyway, In the Orbit of Sirens is like “what if Avatar, but actually really good and with an imaginative plot and characters instead?”
So, the stuff that I loved about the movie (I’ll stop referring to it specifically now, I absolutely don’t want to imply this is derivative) – the amazing planet and landscape, the premise of humans as invaders unsuited to live in the new world, the wealth of visual storytelling, great creatures and biological interplay, the deep communion between alien sentients and their environment that humans lack – all of that was in the book, in spades. And even more so – the interconnected nature of the life-forms wasn’t so dumb and didn’t involve any gonad-braids at all – not even one! The biosphere and its layers and complexity were amped up, and on top of that you got an actually interesting and original plot and concepts.
Talking about creativity, Bruno’s attention to detail goes above and beyond. One day I will get a 3D printer and I hope his work (like this dray’va below) will be available to make miniatures out of. Although among all the creatures and characters in this story, in my opinion the dray’va were done the most dirty. That was really sad, man.
What did they ever do to deserve … oh, right. All the things.
Anyway, where was I?
Earth has been overrun by the hostile Undriel. A pair of colonist / refugee ships, five years apart, have arrived at Kamaria where the air is unbreathable due to an aggressive bacterial something-or-other. The lead ship arrives with the mission to find a cure for humanity so the colonists of the second ship will be safe. The first part of the book interfolds the two groups’ stories really interestingly, as challenges and adventures befall both on their quests to adapt to life on Kamaria and escape the doomed solar system of Earth, respectively. Really nice.
My only complaint here would be that the opening seemed a bit … unpolished? Whether that was just an illusion because I got used to the writing, or if some parts had received more editing than others, it was hard to say. But the opening chapters were a little cumbersome with unnecessary adjectives and stuff – I don’t say this often because I fucking love adjectives but for the elegant and exciting opening the book has, it was made more difficult than it needed to be. Just my opinion, obviously I got past it and I was heartily glad I did. It may have put me off if I was leafing through it at a bookstore or on the Amazon’s Look Inside click-through, you know?
Bill Herman, of the Competing Mechanics Shop Hermans – I’ll say this here because I can’t find a better place for it – is a grade-A moron and deserved everything that happened to him and his entire family. I do wonder if we’ll see more of that in later books. The threat of the Undriel has not actually gone away, and remains a focal plot point of this book and the story going forward, so I wouldn’t be surprised. Certainly shits all over unobtainium. But then, everything shits all over unobtainium when used unironically.
By the time we started to get a good look at Kamaria and its native species, I was enthralled by it. And like I said, there’s a whole lot more thought and care in this, and a whole lot more imagination and creativity put into the plot. The interweaving threads with Roelin and Nhymn (harrowing), Elly and Denton (adorbs), the simple colonist-family dramas (comforting) and rivalries (tropey but fun) are all excellent.
Mitch Harlan, of the Douchey Colonist Ruling Class Harlans – I will again say this here in absence of a more appropriate spot – there is no way someone as abrasive and shitty would ever work on a scout team. He should have been auto-failed the moment he showed up. Was he allowed to even be considered because of his Connections? I wasn’t buying it, but that shit happens I guess. My theory was that Mitch would become a rival scout of some kind and would eat Siren goo because he’s a giant idiot and that he’d threaten Elly, but Bruno was ahead of me on that one. Good stuff. They still should have shot him in the face at the first opportunity. I’m just saying, these things happen. The Scottish guy could definitely have made it look like an accident.
I really enjoyed the way we moved through the months and years of the colony’s existence, and gradually caught up with the Roelin flashbacks and dream sequences. Even before that crossed the WTF horizon and turned into some sort of hallucinogenic time travel event, it was great. The origin of Sympha and Nhymn was such a sad story, and best of all it didn’t have a whole bunch of helpless feather-wearing Native American analogues wailing insultingly to hammer anything home (although make no mistake, the Auk’nai do have wings so there may be something like feathers there).
All in all this was a great story and left me wanting more.
I was also unable to shake this as the mental image I had of Roelin and Nhymn, since I’d just been watching Moon Knight as I was reading the book. But both stories were actually enhanced by that comparison. Actually…
Even the Auk’nai staffs are kind of like … well anyway. It was awesome. I love these little interconnections.
Denton and Elly are sweet. There wasn’t really any sex in the story, certainly nothing graphic, and it doesn’t suffer for the absence. One completely normal and inoffensive nezzarform out of ten possible great big nezzarforms shaped like confrontingly-swollen wing-wangs.
With a healthy heaping plateful of beastie attacks, grenade blowy-uppy and assorted space and air dogfights, In the Orbit of Sirens was a gory one – but again it was appropriate to the plot and I didn’t find it off-putting. Just enough to show the reader that Kamaria’s not playing. Four flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
So – are the Sirens … what are they? Pure weapons-grade WTF is what. There’s a whole lot of mystery here and a whole lot of the psychedelic ragged-edge-of-science stuff I like from an alien biome. I enjoyed the big Ganon blight energy of the nezzarforms. The Auk’nai crystals and the lunglock, in fact the whole wider crystal thing seemed like a McGuffin as of the end of the book but I guess we’ll see. I liked it. I thought Sympha, at the start when Roelin flew there, was bigger than mountains – was that a dream? The sizes seemed a little inconsistently presented but I may just have been not paying enough attention. Are the ribcage mountains other things? The Sirens are clearly a greater whole than just Sympha and Nhymn – they’re just the top of the iceberg. And what are the Undriel? The hints about their origins were just tantalising enough, and their actions deliciously ghoulish. Left me wanting more. The WTF-o-meter is giving this a Cubone the size of an offshore oil rig out of a possible offshore oil rig the size of a Cubone.
My Final Verdict
A brilliantly imaginative story in a mind’s-eye-visually stunning setting, all the beats were there and it makes for a most excellent song. I give this one four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.