Science fiction is a minefield for any author. So many others genres are available that have a set of rules that you can follow. Crime has it, even most fantasy books follow a pattern, but science fiction can be almost anything. It can be set in an alternative today with only a tiny tweak to our way of life or it could be set many years into the future on a distant planet. Whatever the author chooses they need to produce a book that will sometimes have to take complex ideas and make them coherent. Don’t overburden the reader with too many ideas. Don’t get too divergent.
Inspector Keon Rause returns in this third and final outing set on the distant colony planet of Magenta. After the events of From Distant Stars, Rause is no longer the flavour of the month, but rather than being fired, he has been sent on a case in another city known for its art community. One artist has committed suicide on camera and Rause has the easy job of confirming it was indeed self-inflicted. This being Magenta though, things are never simple and a case of self-harm is the least of Rause’s problems.
From Divergent Suns by Sam Peters is a prime example of the type of science fiction that has got away from an author. As part three of a trilogy, Suns has to not only create its own story, but build on what already exists. The first two outings in the series already created a complex situation, this book just comes to the tipping point of too much going on and jumps off.
Crime is popular with science fiction writers as it creates a solid thread that you can write around. All the aliens in the world should not detract from the core crime. The issue here lies with Peters introducing too many concepts over the books. You have; the crime, his AI fake wife, his possible real wife, interplanetary politics, cults, aliens and more. You would think that the case of the dead artist would be the centre, but it actually plays equal billing with many of these other elements.
There is also the structure of the world. On a Meta scale it is fantastic; Magenta was force populated with humans by a mysterious alien race that has since disappeared. Suns is at its best when hinting at what could have happened to these aliens or alternatively concentrating on the simple crime case in hand. However, as a main character Inspector Rause seems to have almost no interest in either of these things.
Obsession is the main characteristic of many a fictional detective and that is the case again as Rause is seemingly only driven by thoughts of his dead wife. His entire motivation from creating an AI from her memories to clandestinely investigating her death comes from this place. It gets a little wearing to be honest. He should have been sacked or given strict therapy much earlier than in the situation we find him in here.
One aspect of the world building that does not work is on the micro level – communication. Rause has a chip in his head that allows him to browse the equivalent of the internet, but also have conversations. This means that you will read a section of the book where he is talking to the person in front of him with his mouth, but also discussing the case with his partner via mind link, or using the internet. Indeed at times it feels like he is having five conversations at once and it is hard to read.
This also leads to no downtime in the book. Rause is constantly on. You leave the room in which he is interviewing a suspect only for him to start talking to his AI. From one plotline to another with no break in the rhythm. At times I was pretty lost as to who was talking to who and where. Everything is compounded as this is the last book and Peters is trying to tie up loose ends. Too much happens.
As a trilogy Sam Peters should be lauded for bringing such ambitious world building to the fore, but by this outing it has become too complex for the actual crime elements to breath. Instead you get a similar book to the previous two, but with no time to breath and no humour. Fans of the series will take something from this outing, but standalone readers should avoid it.
Written on 7th May 2019 by Sam Tyler.
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