Fiction Reviews

Iron Gods

(2017) Andrew Bannister, Bantam, £14.99, hrdbk, 319pp, ISBN 978-0-593-07650-7


This is the second book of a series set in ‘The Spin’ and, like the first book, Creation Machine, it is most enjoyable. This story is set about ten thousand years later, so demonstrating that the author has created a universe with a lot of scope in which to play.

The Spin is a most unusual sector in space; whereas most stars are, literally, astronomical distances apart, the Spin is only thirty light-days across yet contains twenty-one stars and eighty-eight 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. Whilst each planet is different, groups and alliances have formed and, over the millennia, changed and changed again.

Three Quarter Circle is a quiet, backward place with folks just getting on with their simple, mundane lives as they have done for hundreds of generations, little realising that there are many other populated planets out there but that theirs is completely unseen by the rest of them. When Belbis the Painter arrives at the Watch House and stares dutifully up at the night-time sky he finds there are the wrong number of ‘Gods’ and so the Housekeepers raise the alarm. They trigger an ancient mechanism causing an intense green beam to shoot into space; life on their world will never be the same.

Meanwhile Seldyan and her friends are workers on a Hive colony, though slaves would be a more accurate term; they work in the vast biomass areas that produce the food supplies for many of the Inside planets. Despite considerable odds, Seldyan leads a successful escape from the Hive and they end up hijacking the pleasure liner Sunskimmer. This is no ordinary space ship; originally called Flamejob, it is a legacy Main Battle Unit (MBU), a warship built thousands of years ago. Millennia of peace in the Inside means there is no longer a need for such craft; they have been converted for civilian use and their AIs reprogrammed with no recollection of what they had been (though in such a way that, should they become needed, they can be restored to their full military use in mere days). Seldyan and her friends are nothing if not resourceful and soon open up the ship’s hidden memories; it becomes aware of its true nature and remembers the wars of the past as they head to the Outside.

In Basin City, Harbour Master Hevalansa Vess receives the news of the Sunskimmer’s theft and understands its importance - the last of the MBUs has gone and the Inside is defenceless. Summoned to a Meeting of the Board, he expects it to be not just the end of his career but of his life (they are not the forgiving sort) but is surprised at being offered a new job - he will be sent to the Hive as a spy. He is to find out just who Seldyan is, how they escaped, and just what their plans are. It will not be a pleasant job and he will be extremely lucky to survive it.

The story is told in two interwoven streams as, in the Outside, we follow the exploits of Seldyan and the new crew of the Sunskimmer (now irreverently renamed Suck on This) whilst in the Inside the now-spy Vess gets far closer than he would wish to the real goings-on of manufacturing industries, of the interplanetary economy, and of the most powerful beings (both human and not) who are in control.

Following the events of ten millennia ago there had been a pact leading to what people named the Stable Age, though by now everyone had forgotten about it. In the Inside there was much prosperity but the truth, known only to the very highest and most powerful, was that their systems were in decline, wealth had long been leaking to the Outside, and the stability of the Inside was now a well maintained illusion. As a society its days were extremely numbered, merely months. However, as part of the pact, the Archive had been created and hidden, forgotten by everyone, but now it would be needed.

As with the previous volume, this is well written and tells an interesting story. The various worlds are different but feel real, as do the financial and political systems that underpin them. The story keeps its secrets to the end and resolves the plot well. Again I look forward to more stories from the Spin.

Peter Tyers

See also Jonathan's review of Iron Gods.

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