(2014) Gavin Deas, Gollancz, hrdbk, £12.99, 328pp, ISBN 978-0- 575-12900-9
One of two 'Empires' books in the review pile from Gavin Deas, who in real life is fantasy writer Stephen Deas with science fiction writer Gavin Smith shoehorned in to add the requisite amount of convincing technobabble to this resolutely hard SF story.
These books are an interesting conceit. The idea was to tell the story of an alien invasion of Earth twice from the perspective of two different alien races, each fighting over us. I have seen same story two viewpoints two books novels before (John Scalzi in his 'Old Man's War' series cf. Old Man's War and Zoe's Tale) and there is definitely potential with the idea. I am deliberately reading the books and writing the reviews in sequence so I have not yet read the second parallel narrative Infiltration but I have to say having read this first one the omens are good. Extraction is well written and engaging, and sets up nicely for more.
We have only got ourselves to blame, apparently, pumping out welcome signals for friendly aliens who might just be passing by. The Weft notice us, and pay us a visit. Things do not go well for us.
The Weft are a race obsessed with maths, and see the universe as one big mathematical puzzle. Unsurprisingly they see us as primitive and expendable. Five hundred years ago they got tied up in a war with the Pleasure, a hugely advanced and manipulative species which almost wiped the Weft out before disappearing abruptly. Facing defeat, the Weft had seeded the galaxy with colonies in a diaspora. Some ancient Weft, consequently, ended up on Earth and cut themselves off from the Weft's hive mind to avoid capture by the Pleasure. The Weft, though, believe in a soul which is linked in some way to the hive, and which the Earth-based Weft (described as the Shriven) do not have. So the new Weft decide to wipe them out.
The humans are doing their best to wipe them out too. The Shriven have been responsible for atrocities and appear to be able to manipulate humans into mass killings. A new drug is confusing things – called Bliss it, or something similar – is converting people into super-soldiers with some resultant mayhem. SAS men Roche and Rees get tied up with a good deal of the general unexplained weirdness going on around them and offer a good third party viewpoint to the growing alien conflict emerging around them.
This book never gets to the core of the Weft/Pleasure conflict, but that's okay. This is the set-up book, and it does a pretty good job in establishing two races, with two viewpoints, each hostile to ours. Indifferent rather than hostile, but no less dangerous for that. We don't see much of the Pleasure in this book, though the drug Bliss and the supersoldier enhancements are surely their work (no explanation given as to motive, which feels like deliberate teasing rather than omission). We don't actually see much of the Weft, for that matter. Their side of the narrative is conducted by sentient ships which are presumably AI. The Weft on the ground are given an appearance (scary clown) and some pretty nasty habits (body harvesting, mass murder), but no voice. The speaking is left to the humans who are rude, cynical, scared, rattled and totally engaging.
I have a minor quibble that the main characters are all male (30 year old 'attractive' Charly's presence just reinforces the point) but that's not going to stop me looking forward with some anticipation to the next instalment, which is encouragingly all about the Pleasure. Now that can't be bad, can it? Recommended.
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