Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Just Read: Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell

I have the kind of mind that likes to make sure every single thing is in the tidy little box it belongs in, so I need to begin with some housekeeping.

Housekeeping #1: No one will care, but I title posts "Just Read:..." if it's a book I just finished reading. I title posts "Recently Read:..." if I read it a few days or weeks ago and am only now getting around to writing about it. (I hope to do posts on Lud-in-the-Mist and Stranger Things Happen as soon as possible.) My memory is likely to be a bit fuzzier on the latter.

Housekeeping #2: I am a working editor, so I read a lot of stuff that isn't published yet. (Though, since I work for the SF Book Club, most of those books are already scheduled to be published by the time I see them.) I expect to avoid talking in detail about these books most of the time, and I'll probably not even mention books that I don't finish. (I buy about seventy books for the club a year, many of which are omnibuses of several existing books, so not finishing a book is in no way a value judgment. I buy a number of things without finishing them, often even books I'm enjoying reading.)

Crystal Rain is not yet published, but Tobias S. Buckell is a fairly big-name blogger in the SF world, and he's been distributing advance copies and asking for responses in his circles. (I got my copy of his book through different channels, though, and he doesn't know me from Adam.) So it seems reasonable, in this case, to talk a little about it, even though it's not available to most readers yet. It's coming in hardcover from Tor in February, and will be found in the usual places books are sold.

Crystal Rain is a lost-colony SF novel, low-tech division, conflict between more powerful alien races sub-division. (And so a cousin to The Uplift War and many of the '50s SF novels of Andre Norton.) We start off in bucolic splendor on the world Nanagada, where John deBrun washed up on shore, amnesiac, twenty-seven years before. He's obviously Someone Important, in some grand scheme of things, but, for now, he's living quietly with a wife and young son in a sleepy fishing village. But there's a much nastier human culture on the other side of the mountains and, well, things get bad pretty quickly.

DeBrun is not our only viewpoint character, interestingly, as he would be in the version of this book from forty years ago. We also see the nasty human culture from more sympathetic points of view, though it's nasty no matter how you look at it. And the whole thing moves along zippily to finish up its story in 511 manuscript pages. (I hear regularly from readers who choose books purely based on heft, but I really think they're misguided. Long books can be as good as short books, but concision is always a virtue, in books of any length.)

I enjoyed Crystal Rain, and I liked it better and better as it went along, which is a good sign for a book. The plot went some of the places I expected it to, but didn't take the easy outs I thought it might. And the character of Pepper, who could have easily become a cliche, had unexpected depths. I don't know if it'll end up on my Hugo nominations list for 2006 (that's a long way away), but it's a darn good SF novel, and I'm certainly looking forward to Buckell's next book. 2005 has seemed to be a blah year for SF, so I hope this is a good sign that 2006 will be better.

The title, though, doesn't really have much to do with anything. It comes up near the very end, and is a very minor point that has nothing to do with the plot of the book. It is a nice catchy phrase, I guess, but I was expecting "Crystal Rain" to mean something science fictional. I suspect it was a book that had a working title that the publisher disliked, and this was a compromise, but I suspect that on absolutely no evidence other than reading the thing. (I might try poking around on Buckell's blog, to see if he says anything about the title there.)


Martin Wisse said...

Sounds like The Bourne Identity in spaaaaceee!

Tobias S. Buckell said...

Hi Andrew, many thanks for posting your thoughts on Crystal Rain, I'm psyched you enjoyed it, and I posted an explanation of the title for you over at Tobiasbuckell.com :-)

Martin: I read Bourne Identity right after I finished writing Crystal Rain and kicked myself. Once again, there is truly nothing new under the sun, I guess. I liked BI a lot, a book after my own interests!

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