Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 22/07/2021
Generations after fleeing an Earth devastated by the Unity Plague, the remnants of humanity once more learn that divisions come with a price. Diplomatic talks are cut short by the most brutal murders in recent history, and the worst may yet be to come . . .
Every year, a lot of books are published. Now that may sound obvious, and it is, but few people stop to think about what that really means. Think of any list that claims to show the best books of the year. There’ll be ten, or twenty, or a hundred. And in the comments section, that gutter of human interaction, there will be countless people asking ‘how is (x) not on this list?’ And the books they’re talking about down there are good books. Popular books, even. A list can only hold so many titles, and it’s inevitably the big books that feature. The new Adrian Tchaikovsky release might well be featured in newspapers, while a new translation of a Cixin Liu anthology, or a re-release of a timeless classic is bound to catch attention. Marketing plays a big role in this, of course, and popularity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even bloggers like myself are not immune to this. We hear about books, we read books, we review books, and we feed into the same cycle. It can be hard for a book to break into the public awareness, even at the best of times. A man like myself who generally keeps his ear to the ground when it comes to new releases is inevitably going to come across books he’s never heard of, and I think the same goes for anyone. Ten years ago, I’d never heard of John Scalzi. Until a few years ago, I wasn’t really tapped into the sci-fi news-cycle at all. Faced with all this confusion, you have two choices. Follow the crowd and read the big releases, knowing you’re going to get a product of some assured quality, or take risks and pick up books about which you know nothing at all. I know I’m not alone in dabbling in both options. Yes, I want to read the big books, but I’m a voracious reader, and I’m absolutely willing to gamble on an unknown in the hopes of finding a rare gem. A gem that I can talk about, here and elsewhere, and do my bit to help get these books into the wider world.
I picked up John Appel’s debut release Assassin’s Orbit for two reasons. One, it looked like my sort of book. Two, I was just short of a stamp on my Waterstones card. Win-win, I thought. And even if I didn’t like the book, it brought me closer to a discount on my next purchase. As it happens, I didn’t enjoy the book. I’m just not entirely sure why.
Assassin’s Orbit has a lot going for it. It has action, politics, nifty science fiction concepts relating to artificial intelligence. Everything I like to see in my reading. It also has a refreshingly nuanced take on law enforcement, neither condemning them all as corrupt villains nor shying away the more brutal aspects of police-work in terms of crisis. Another point in the book’s favour is the diversity of its cast. The protagonists are elderly, female, people of colour, and their are nonbinary characters in there too. But this isn’t a book about being any of these things. These are just people who exist, going about their lives side by side with everyone else. It’s inclusion done right, and a lot of books could learn from the example it provides.
I think the only thing that kept me from getting into the book is the writing itself. It’s not bad, I’ll say that upfront. I can’t even put my finger on why it didn’t work for me. I just know that it didn’t. It’s a weird, frustratingly nebulous aspect that kept me from fully enjoying a book that otherwise had ‘this is for me’ written all over it. It’s hard to fault a book for something like this, which has far more to do with me than it does Appel’s writing but I can only review based on personal experience, and that is what it is.
Assassin’s Orbit wasn’t for me, but if you like action, diverse characters, and artificial intelligence, it could well be for you.