by Karl Schroeder

Cover image

Publisher: Tor
Copyright: May 2002
Printing: March 2003
ISBN: 0-765-34285-5
Format: Mass market
Pages: 471

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Science fiction of the ramscoop variety, this book mixes a bit of a coming of age story with some truly excellent exploration fiction, a fair bit of interstellar politics, and a very interesting take on how some aspects of the Shinto religion may be applied to alien worlds and cybernetic implants. An abused space station minder runs away from home and happens on the find of her life in deep space: an abandoned alien fleet. A research assistant and secret practitioner of NeoShinto tries to come to terms with the alienness of the galaxy. It is a very solid character-driven science fiction story, dense with both ideas and fully realized characters.

There are several bits of exploration in here that reminded me of Rendezvous with Rama, although with more revealed about what is going on and not quite as extensive. The alien feeling was well-done, as is the universe background of ancient extinct alien races and failed galactic empires. All the classic trappings of far-future space science fiction are here and handled well, including a sense of scope and a presence of significant large questions about the purpose and long-term future of the human race.

But the best part of this book to me was how it wove philosophy and religion into the midst of the plot and into the consequences of the exploration of ailen artifacts. A modified version of Shinto tries to find ways for humans to become psychologically accustomed and comfortable with very non-human places. The economically oppressive central government is that way for specific and believable reasons dealing with fears and worries about the future of the human race. Mankind searches for peers among the stars and finds aliens, incomprehension, danger, and questions. And against that backdrop is the story of one young woman trying to understand what she can do in the world, what she wants to do, who she can trust, and what she believes in.

I really loved this book. It's an excellent execution of some standard science fiction backgrounds with interesting twists of its own, and it's packed full of both ideas and likeable and believable characters. The main character, abused as a child, acts like she was, and not in ways that always end up being right or smart. I really cared about the characters, and continued to care about them all the way through the book, which is perhaps one of the highest compliments one can pay a book.

Other than an ending that's just a little bit too neat and a tiny bit of an anti-climax, I can't think of any real flaws in this book. I recommend it very highly.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-04-24

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