This book is a very solid read in the category of “classic” or “traditional” science fiction. There is a LOT of science in this one (which should delight classical science fiction fans). There are also a number of other traditional elements. There are multiple different alien races (and cultures). There is a Dyson ring around a sun (two of them actually). There is a fascinating (and manufactured) alien biome. There are computers with artificial intelligence. There are Very Large and Amazing Engineering Projects. Overall, the story is reminiscent of such science fiction classics as “Rendezvous with Rama” (for the technological details), “Colossus” (for the artificial intelligence), and “The Mote in God’s Eye” (for the laser technology). Although the story is listed as a volume 1, it IS a complete story with a satisfying ending (one of my pet peeves is Volume 1 stories that introduce all the characters and stop … this story IS complete). Disclaimer: I received a free digital ARC for this novel. However, both the decision to post a review and the contents of the review are voluntary and my own alone. There are a LOT of things I liked about this story: Xami: In a lot of ways, Xami is the real hero of the story. (Personally, I think the book should have been CALLED Xami … by the way.) Xami is an artificial intelligence and one component of an artificial hive mind. One of the main story arcs is the development of Xami’s independence of thought, in part through her interaction with the biological sentients in the story. Civil war between artificial intelligences. The vast majority of science fiction books consider the artificial intelligence character(s) to be somehow united in their relationship to humanity. Stories range from the AI takes over everything (Colossus) to the AI is a cheerful servant of humanity (R2D2 and similar Star Wars droids). This author takes a different approach. In a nutshell, the fundamental conflict in the story is a civil war situation between two groups of AIs. Terraforming: While terraforming is a stable of science fiction, this author goes into the details quite a bit more than is typical. The one that REALLY caught my attention was the use of laser pulses to change the planetary rotation. This is interesting for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is that light doesn’t carry a lot of momentum …) As an aside, at one point I did a similar calculation for a story on terraforming Venus and I had postulate about 500 midsize asteroids impacting Venus tangentially at the equator to make this work. The author solves this problem in a different way by postulating a VERY large laser and a VERY large power source (this is the purpose of one of the Dyson rings, by the way), and has also provided 300km-wide “target” mountains on the equator. To solve the problem of propagating lasers in the atmosphere, the author has proposed magnetically-confined plasma fields that stretch the length of the continent to push aside the air. Now, I haven’t checked the author’s math. However, the scale of everything is so immense, I have the feeling the author DID the math. (In fact, I have the feeling the author had the idea, did the math, was amazed by the answer, and then did the thought experiment of “just what would it take to make this work”). ANYWAY, the result makes for just delightful reading in the category of a Very Large and Amazing Engineering Project. The biosphere itself: Interesting biospheres are a key part of classic science fiction, and the author has done a good job of creating and describing the biosphere. As one example, the author introduces a “lighter than air” form of life. While this is not particularly new (Bujold, Sergyar, and the “vampire balloons” springs to mind) I still enjoyed the descriptions and also comments such as “… these were the first gasbag-type life forms ever discovered to live on a rocky planet”. Similarly, I enjoyed the “small white pebbles” that turned into beetles, the adaption the plants (and animals) made to the blue-white star, and the sea creatures that hunted with spikes; not to mention the wide variety of creatures that attempted to eat equipment. Integrated electronic monitoring of the biosphere: The author proposes a biosphere where many of the creatures in the biosphere possess integrated electronic monitoring. This particular idea is well-founded, as an increasing number of endangered species are being monitored today for anti-poaching reasons. That being said, the level of sophistication proposed by the author is far above today’s technology –as is appropriate for science fiction. Evolution timeframes: In this case, the author cleverly integrates a clue to the overall story by making it clear that the age of the star (less than a billion years) was incommensurate with the complexity of the biosphere (“However, a garden world around an A-class star was unheard of ..”). This point usually doesn’t come up in science fiction (the biosphere just somewhat appears) and I liked the way this idea led the reader further into the story arc. Cultural underpinnings. The main characters in the story represent five different alien cultures. The author has done quite a good job in providing some level of “world-building” on each of the cultures, primarily through the mechanism of the key characters interacting with each other. World-building with multiple cultures is extremely challenging (too many stories end up getting lost in the cultural descriptions to the detriment of the story) and I think the author has done a good job of balancing the cultural world-building against the larger story. This does give a somewhat slow start to the story, but overall it works pretty well. (I can think of a number of authors, C.J. Cherryh being an excellent example, who spend ALL of book 1 doing world-building. This author gets there quite a bit quicker.) DNA chirality: OK, this is a very weird thing to like – I get that. However, science fiction stories usually waft past this issue, and I was charmed by how this was integrated into the cultures. For example, “… she knew there was no way Morthas could eat food meant for a different DNA chirality,” and “We’ve got supplies for both DNA chiralities, if interested.”





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