bookrev: Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell
Ragamuffin is three books in one: a space opera, featuring a complex world with humans near the bottom of the socio-economic chain; a sequel to Mr. Buckell’s excellent first novel, Crystal Rain, featuring Pepper and John from that book as Nanagada evolves after the war from that book; and the bringing together of both story lines. All three are excellently described, well-paced and enjoyable, with my only consternation being in trying to keep the different alien and somewhat human species straight.
I moved Ragamuffin to the top of my reading stack, as I won an ARC of Mr. Buckell’s forthcoming third tome, Sly Mongoose, from Variety of Words. Based on what I now know, I would recommend that these books be read in order (Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose) in order to have the full background of characters and plots.
Nashara, like Pepper in Crystal Rain, is a modified human. Not only is she a skilled fighter, she and several of her sisters had special doomsday type software viruses integrated into them, so that they could replicate into lamina (an advanced wireless software network that broadcasts and receives info and instructions about everything). She and her sisters were taken prisoner when they were inserted back into the alien Satrapy controlled section of the universe; Nashara alone survived, and spent years trying to make it across the wormhole network to get back to her world of Chimson. Nashara and her sisters were inserted from a space trip around a closed wormhole, closed to block humans who won’t submit to rule by the Satrapy (this was the so-called Emancipation).
Humans are portrayed as a beaten down lot (some are even pets to the alien Gahe), but there is an organization readying for an uprising. With their help (somewhat), Nashara makes her way to the end of the wormhole network, where the Ragamuffin ships defend their part of the galaxy. Along the way, she realizes that the Satrapy has decided to exterminate humans.
On Nanagada, Pepper and John witness the return of the Teotl via a starship. The Azteca view this as a reason to restart human sacrifices; Pepper views it as a way to reopen their closed wormhole (they are currently outside of the wormhole network Nashara is traversing) and get back to the other Ragamuffins.
Pepper and John make a deal with their former enemies the Teotl, reopen the wormhole and join Nashara and the rest of the Ragamuffin fleet for a fight with the Hongguo, the human controlled Satrapy army. The resulting space battle is excellent, the results far reaching, setting up many avenues for Mr. Buckell to explore in future novels and stories.
My favorite scene in the book is one of the ships that has no computers for navigation, etc., but just lots of humans under mind control of the alien Satrapy, using abacuses to calculate position, speed, heading, etc.. No viruses or security breaches possible in this configuration, and Tobias paints a vivid picture of this; geeky and somewhat horrifying at the same time.
As I mentioned, I did get somewhat confused on the species. Here’s my current understanding:
- Ragamuffins: humans, most long lived, some modified;
- Hongguo: humans, mind controlled (or in some cases wiped and reprogrammed) by the Benovolent Satrapy;
- there are other humans that are neither Ragamuffin or Hongguo;
- Satrapy: big slimy trilobyte looking creatures that can control human and alien minds;
- Teotl: aliens who can modify their shape to suit the environment; the invaded Nanagaga from their homeworld, which was a wormhole away, but that wormhole was closed during a long ago battle; they open the wormhole on the upstream side that separates Nanagada from the rest of the human and Satrapy planets (because they were being exterminated, no clue as to who?)
- Loa: alien enemies of the Teotl, have helped and hindered the humans on Nanagaga;
- Gahe: alien species that has humans as pets;
If I have gotten any of this incorrect, I would appreciate any comments.
Tobias has created a very interesting world and conflict (the extermination of humans) which makes his series an excellent read. Those of you who do not have an ARC of Sly Mongoose should be jealous of me indeed…and hopefully I will not be reading it while stuck in multiple airports going to and from Roswell, New Mexico.