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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: Revenger

Revenger is Aliastair Reynold's novel about space pirates in a far future setting. Told from the point of view of a highly educated young woman (Fura Ness) from a family down on its finances, it tells the story of her and her sister's attempt to go on an adventure by signing up on a sailing vessel as "bone readers." Bone readers are the VHF/telegraph operators in this millieu, and since it's a talent that you can age out of, new  bone readers are always in demand and the sisters sign up on a treasure-hunting expedition boat. During the expedition, the boat is attacked by space pirates and the rest of the story revolves around Fura's attempt to get revenge and rescue her sister.

The millieu is particularly interesting, obviously constructed to mirror the golden age of sail's particular constraints so as to make the kind of voyages described interesting. For instance, everything takes place within a single solar system, so solar sails can be used as a means of getting everywhere. The result is travel times described in weeks, rather than years required for interstellar distances without breaking the known laws of physics. Similarly, the worlds described aren't planets, but rather artificial habitat constructs ranging from 25 miles wide to about 100 miles wide, similar to island sizes in the Caribbean. Scattered amongst the worlds are baubles, apparently stasis-protected former habitats that may contain artifacts or quoins (treasure) so treasure hunters have something to do.

It's always interesting to me to see authors work around their weaknesses. Reynolds, for instance, cannot write a romance to save his life, and in this novel he works around it by eliminating any such possibilities: the lead characters are essentially asexual, and married people are introduced with their status as though it's a title. It works, but obviously one of the tropes of pirate fiction is completely eliminated.

As a story, the novel is fun: we watch as Fura Ness goes from naivete to becoming a classical pirate. The book is full of slang and sayings that evoke the golden age of sail while being more or less scientifically correct, and the setting is interesting if improbable.While not his best work, it has a certain appeal to those who like pirate fiction/science fiction mashups and can be recommended as such.

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