(2016) Andrew Bannister, Bantam Books, £8.99, pbk, 328pp, ISBN978-0-857-50335-0
This is the first book in what promises to be a series set in ‘The Spin’ and, to judge by this volume, it should be an enjoyable series. It is also the author’s first novel.
At some point in the far future mankind has come across a most unusual sector in space; whereas most stars are, literally, astronomical distances apart, the area which they name the Spin is only thirty light-days across yet contains twenty-one stars with about ninety planets. It is also artificial, though they have absolutely no idea of who created it or how (or why), only that it is hundreds of millions of years old. Naturally mankind has moved into the area and populated it and, whilst each planet is different, groups and alliances have formed and, over the millennia, changed and changed again.
Currently the biggest political grouping is the Hegemony; they are financially driven and are very good at drawing other planets into their system - a simple loan can easily end up costing an entire planet in repayments. One of the largest companies in the Hegemony, and one of its biggest backers, is the Haas Corporation, headed by Viklun Haas. Like many teenagers, his daughter Fleare rebelled against her father and all he stands for and so she joined Society Otherwise, a militia dedicated to taking down the Hegemony. However, they lost their war and as the story starts she is imprisoned on the moon Obel where she is held by the Strecki Brotherhood, a bunch of self-styled monks, in an ancient building which has long been called the Monastery (though no-one is sure what its original purpose was). She might have been there forever had not Muz, her old boyfriend and fellow soldier, rescued her. Mind you, he is not what he was; due to a deadly dose of radiation from an exploding nuke, he uploaded himself into a cloud of animated nano-particles. They go off in search of the closest of their fellow comrades and find themselves in much deeper trouble than they could have expected. Much of the story follows their exploits as they get closer to what is really going on.
The remainder of the story focuses on the planet Taussich, home of the People’s Democratic Republic of the Planet of Taussich and the Fortunate Protectorates of the Spin Centre. They are led by the Patriarch, who rules through absolute cruelty; to the ruling class life is not just cheep, it is completely without cost. We follow the exploits of Alameche Ur-hive, chief advisor to the Patriarch and one of the cruellest and most devious of the bunch; like his peers, he believes in promotion by assassination.
The People’s Democratic Republic have expanded their empire by annexing neighbouring planets, thinking nothing of genocide and causing overwhelming devastation; their only intention is to completely strip their new conquests of all their assets. The latest planet to become a ‘Fortunate Protectorate’ is Silthx; about half the population was killed in the nuclear holocaust whilst the remainder were enslaved and forced to provide labour for their new masters. Whilst pillaging Silthx, Alameche discovers that the object which, many years earlier, fell out of space and smashed devastatingly into the planet’s largest nuclear power station is no celestial body - it might just be part of the ancient mechanism that created the Spin … and therefore a very powerful weapon.
Unknown to any of the main characters there are other players, some of whom date back to the creation of the Spin, and they have other ideas in mind. Neither of the main parties could have predicted the way their stories would end and the end of the whole story is neat and most satisfactory.
The story is well told and goes along at a pleasant pace with the action alternating between the two main storylines as they slowly come together. The author makes a lot of use of flashbacks to a little earlier and he does so well; it keeps the story ticking along nicely and allows the action to keep going whilst also filling in the details. As a technique it could easily fail but in this case it works well.
At first, I was not too sure about this book, that it would go anywhere interesting, but as the pages turned I enjoyed it more and more - good, solid space opera. I look forward to more stories from the Spin.
See also Jonathan's take on Creation Machine.
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