Tobias S. Buckell,
(Tor, 2007)

Tobias Buckell's Ragamuffin is a sequel to Crystal Rain, expanding the scope of the previous novel and bringing in history and circumstance that the inhabitants of Nanagada have largely forgotten.

The woman called Nashara is, like the Nanagadan oldfathers John DeBrun and Pepper of Crystal Rain, endowed with exceptional capabilities. Unlike them, she is free in the Benevolent Satrapy, the confederation of worlds ruled by the alien Satraps who can reprogram sentient species into obedient servants. She has existed for hundreds of years as a freelance assassin, smuggler, thief or whatever will get her closer to the Raga, the somewhat miscellaneous forces of the lost human worlds, Nanagada and Chimson. Nashara just wants to go home to Chimson, and just as her goal is in sight, the Satrapy very quietly begins a campaign of genocide against several subject species, including humanity. Consequently, humanitiy being what it is, the Satrapy also sets off a revolution, and Nashara and the Ragamuffins are right in the middle of it.

After the steampunk of Crystal Rain, the shift in vision here is remarkable. Although Buckell has called Ragamuffin a "space opera," the milieu reflects a trend I've seen more and more in science fiction, which is the integration of our contemporary information age into the matrix of the created universes in a fundamental way. I don't see this as a form of cyberpunk, particularly -- there's not the gritty, noir cast to it that you might find in Gibson or Sterling -- and in this instance and a couple of others that come to mind, the technology is central to the story in a way that it's not in many other similar tales. Nashara, for example, is a walking virus, with the ability to invade information systems and replicate herself to take over entire networks. The fact that doing so will likely result in her own extinction generates a tension that carries throughout the entire story.

In fact, that might be the word that best describes Ragamuffin: tension. It builds, from the deceptively understated beginning through Nashara's encounters with those who may be friends or deadly enemies, none of whom can be trusted, and in the scenes that take us back to Nanagada, where the shaky new order is dealt a blow with the arrival of the Teotl and the resurgence of the old guard of Azteca, human sacrifice and all. And to cap it off, Buckell is no slouch at gripping battle scenes.

Score another one for Buckell. Ragamuffin fully lives up to the promise of its predecessor, and one can only hope to see more of this fascinating universe soon.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Robert M. Tilendis

18 October 2008

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