It seems weird that the end of August is here. How does time? What is present? So, OK, I didn’t get nearly as much done this month as I had planned. In anything. But I do have another review to put up, so I will do that right now.
Very minor spoilers, but I don’t think I give very much away. I read it knowing nothing about it but the cover copy and the piece the authors wrote on Scalzi’s “Big Idea” post, though, and I liked it a lot.
Continuing in my random and not entirely well-thought-out series of sort-of reviews of books I’ve read recently and liked, I thought I’d talk about another space opera. “Linesman,” by S.K. Dunstall.
I didn’t realize until I started writing this sort-of review that S.K. Dunstall is (are?) two people – Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall. So there’s that for a little trivia about the book. This is a book, at its heart, about what happens when we forget the wisdom and ways of the past, in pursuit of the future and modernity. It’s also about being open to things working in a different way than you thought. Have an open mind. Try new things. Try old things. Be open. Don’t be a jerk. (I feel like the last bit is a great message that shows up in a lot of books, but it bears repeating, doesn’t it?)
Ean is our protagonist, and he’s one of the few people who can fix all of the “lines” on a spaceship. The lines are a way of running a ship that are cloned from an alien technology that humans do not truly understand, but figured out from a derelict alien craft that they (the lines) can be used to travel light years in moments. (Line 1 = crew, 2&3 are mechanics, 4 is gravity, etc up to 9&10 which moves the ship through space/time.) It’s been 500 years since humans first started using the technology, and some of what people originally learned from using it has been lost. The basics of how to use them are there, but not everyone knows how they work, or how to fix them if they break.
There are 10 lines, but only someone who can feel all 10 of them can fix all of them if they go out of true. If the lines go out of true, a ship can’t travel safely. The linesmen (line workers? I forget if they used that) are a pretty prestigious group. Ean is a little different from most linesmen. He comes from a poor background, and got a late start into the program that trains line workers. He’s largely self-taught, and sings to the lines. No one who learned in school sings to them. They can either feel them or they can’t but they don’t listen to them. They don’t meld with them the way Ean does. Most other line workers think he’s at least a little insane. They don’t respect him. (He does tend to get lost in communication with the lines, and that does make him someone who appears very odd to others.) When a strange phenomenon that shows up in deep space called the “confluence” pulls almost all of the high-level line workers to investigate it, he is not invited to attend. Which means he’s one of the only “tens” available to be drafted to fix a spaceship that belongs to one of the leaders of a large alliance of planets that is on the brink of interplanetary war.
I don’t know if I can describe this book adequately without rereading it all and going chapter by chapter. It’s intricate and has a lot of political shenanigans as well as interpersonal ones, and things get pretty sticky for our underdog hero. But I can tell you that I truly enjoyed it. It’s extremely well written, with a lot of fantastic characters and some very broad philosophy. I found myself very invested in Ean’s fate, and I was impressed with the level of background and world/universe-building the authors were able to squeeze in without it feeling burdensome. The action is nearly non-stop, but it still feels very thoughtful and deep. And I find the whole idea of the lines and the semi-(if not outright) sentience of the ships really fascinating. I was rooting for the ships almost as much as the heroes. And the ships who had bad crews, or lost crew, I really felt emotionally invested in making them happy. So my childhood of generally anthropomorphizing anything and everything (including toast) came in super handy here, but I think it makes for compelling reading. If you like your space opera with intrigue and shades of gray with an ill-used and misunderstood main character, and a feeling of alien sentience surrounding everything, then you will love this story. The 2nd book comes out in February, and I am very much looking forward to it.
OK, that was a pretty short review, but the shorter version is: Really like it, will probably read again, and I’m excited for the series.
Next up: Fall. I’m going to get a few more of these reviews done, maybe do a Worldcon report, talk about the state of my own books, and more. Hey September, lookin good autumn baby, hey.