bookrev: Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell
Reader’s read with many motivations. Sometimes you read for entertainment, for the plot; sometimes to be intellectually stimulated (big words), for the ideas. When I want to read to laugh out loud, I pick up a Christopher Moore tome.
I’ll now add Mr. Buckell to the list of authors who write entertaining science fiction with enough large ideas to make me think, and sometimes to argue with their perceptions of how the future might look.
Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell follows John DeBrun, a man with a past he cannot remember, whose quiet island-like existence in a Caribbean-like land is shattered when Aztec-like armies long held off invade through a tunnel they dug through a mountain. Mr. Buckell foreshadows well many points in the book, and though it is clear early on that DeBrun is probably one of the long-lived “old fathers”, the way that part of the story unfolds keeps the reader hooked. All roads (and train tracks!) lead to Capitol City and most of the major characters converge there to take their final stand (as, of course, the Aztec carve out hearts as in the days of old). DeBrun is sent on an expedition in search of a weapon that may save them all (no spoilers here); obviously his loss of memory and who he really is plays splendidly into the ending.
There were several ideas here that I am still pondering:
- maintaining cultural lines after (one would assume, as there is no date noted in the book) thousands of years (long enough to manage wormholes and human modification); I had always assumed the we humans (yes, I am including myself) would cross-pollinate so much that a mixture of cultures would emerge largely unidentifiable from the original. Tobias’ future has a distinct earth-based culture flavor (Caribbean and Aztec). People do look to their past (culturally, geneologically and religiously) to try and find an identity of sorts that they can latch onto (I latch onto the fact that I am part Choctaw, although like many Americans I am uncertain and somewhat ambivalent concerning what percentage) so Toby has me thinking and reading about how long different cultural standards survive. In my own novel the Mayan calendar plays a role, but that is more of an artifact that a cultural more’…more cogitation required;
- aliens as cultural earth gods, while not a new line of thinking (Stargate! and Egyptian god worship), is used slightly differently, as there is not a general uprising against the alien gods so long as a “go along and fit in” theme;
- people cut off from the rest of the universe who mostly forget where they are from; this is an oft-used plot vehicle, but Toby keeps modified humans (“old fathers”) around who remember the time when they were cutoff; after 300 years, what would be left of a civilization? Lots if you look at what modern archaeologists have uncovered, and Toby puts an interesting archaeological twist into the narrative;
- the religion of sacrifice of the Aztecs vs. other methods of worship; an excellent exchange between Oaxyctl, an Azteca spy trying to defend the Aztec’s bloody religious sacrifices and the still amnesiatic DeBrun, is worth a long tequila and beer discussion:
“What would you offer your god?” Oaxyctl asked. “Mud from the bottom of the river? Or the holiest gift of all? I have seen verses that say the gift of human life is a holy deed. Is that not one of the tenets of the christians who live on this side of the mountain.”
“That is a perverse comparison.”
“Perverse?” Oaxyctl raised his voice. “No more than any other religion. What religion does not have a strong connection in blood? The Vodun and christian faiths ask for blood in one way or another.”
My one difficulty with the book was it was a slow start, mainly due to Mr. Buckell being true to a type of Caribbean dialect that was difficult to get the rhythm of. But, like Beowulf, once you got into it, you barreled through to the end, seen?