Fiction Reviews

Splintered Suns

(2018) Michael Cobley, Orbit, £9.99, pbk, 489pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50966-2


For Pyke and his crew it should have been just another heist.  Travel to a backwater desert planet, break into a museum, steal a tracking device then use it to find a ship buried in the planet's vast and trackless sandy wastes. Except that the museum vault is a bio-engineered chamber, and the tracking device is sought-after by another gang of treasure hunters led by an old adversary of Pyke's, the devious Raven Kaligara. Also, the ship is quarter of a million years old and about two kilometres long and somewhere aboard it is the Essavyr Key, a relic to unlock all the treasures and technologies of a lost civilisation...

Great title and a great cover, courtesy of Steve Stone, for the fifth outing into Mike Cobley’s 'Humanities Fire' world which started with the trilogy: Seeds of Earth, The Orphaned Worlds, and The Ascendant Stars, which was followed by after a five year gap by Ancestral Machines and now we have Splintered Suns, another space opera novel with a quote from the late, great Iain M Banks about Seeds of Earth on the cover, what would he have made of this, I wonder, because as space opera goes, it is pretty standard fare with Cobley freely admitting that he was inspired to write it due to his love of the late-lamented TV series Firefly, from which Splintered Suns shares some common features – a charismatic, smuggler captain, infamous ship and a rag-tag collection of misfit crew members. I think there is a real tendency in the world of fantasy fiction in books by Jen Williams et al to have a collective band of different somebodies on a quest, so it is good to see a similar disparate bunch in a space opera setting.

This motley crew – Dervla, Ancil, Moleg, Oleg and Kref – are under the command of even motlier, Captain Brannan Pyke, and serve on his ship the Scarabus. (Why does that make me think of the rogue-ish character Sabalom Glitz and his ship the Nosferatu from the old Doctor Who days?)  Pyke and her merry band are under the employ of one Van Graes who collects ancient alien artefacts and he wants them to steal a tracking device called the Angular Eye which he thinks will lead them to a vast, ancient ship and unimaginable treasure within, starting with the Essavyr Key, the key to getting to the other treasures.  Pyke can certainly imagine what that treasure might be like, and so can others who covet the Eye, but all Pyke has to do is get to the planet Ong, which is basically a huge desert planet, steal the eye and give it to Van Greas.  Easy.  Well, the first part goes well enough, but no sooner have our motley crew obtained the Eye than it is stolen from them by the mad, bad, and dangerous to know, Raven Kaligara, an old adversary of Pyke, who sets off to find the missing ship. Now Pyke has a new mission – stop Raven and get the Eye back.  To help him, Pyke enlists the help of a scientist who can track Raven each time she uses the Eye.  However there is another story going on within the bowels of the ancient ship where an alien A.I. called 'The Legacy' has created a simulated world and while the real-world storyline builds to a climax, so does the plot in the simulation, but both have ramifications for the other.

Cobley is a great world builder and the simulated world lets him flex his fantasy setting muscles – after all he did write a fantasy trilogy before these books.  He is also a great builder of characters and while the banter and interaction between Pyke and his crew are great fun, it’s the psychopathic Raven who steals the show in a rollicking ride of a book, although I do have a soft spot for Rensik, a Construct Drone who has the sense to deny any previous involvement with Pyke – that’s one smart machine.  Here’s to further adventures of the fast-talking space captain.

Ian Hunter


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