The time is finally upon us. The SPSFC has reached the finals, and we have a finalist review here for you today. This one is of T. A. Bruno’s In the Orbit of Sirens. This book has an SPSFC rating of 7.00 out of 10. Here’s my full review.
If anyone ever tells you that self-published books can’t be as good as traditionally published ones, all you need to do is hold aloft a copy of In the Orbit of Sirens as proof of the opposite. Depending on the individual, you may then wish to a) pass the book to them for reading, or b) whack them over the head with it. Your choice. What matters is that In the Orbit of Sirens is just as crisp and polished as anything you’d find coming off the presses at orbit, Tor, or Gollancz. This isn’t a half-baked, garage-based offering. This is a finished product, with all the shine and glamour it deserves. Because presentation can glitz up just about anything, but this book doesn’t need the enhancement, because it’s also a very good piece of science fiction.
We are back in space opera territory once again, which is always a good place to start. But while this is a genre most people associate with an almost epic fantasy level of easy to inhabit environments, In the Orbit of Sirens opens with a planet that is slowly killing all of its human colonists. Not because of any sense of malice, but because other planets are not terribly well-suited to human habitation. Lung-lock may be a fictional condition, but it’s a reminder of just how hostile outer space can be to our kind. In another refreshing nod to plausibility, the opening chapter features an alien who is not immediately fluent in English. Shocking enough, avian mouthparts aren’t great at making mammalian sounds. Who’d have thought it?
Pretty soon though, the full expanse of space opera is opened up. In addition to those desperate colonists looking for a way to survive on a hostile world, we have a doomed Earth and artificial intelligences that are anything but benevolent. All familiar tropes, but all well placed. And of course this leads to the gripping starship chases and space scenes that make the genre what it is. And what it is, is just good entertainment.
The major knock to this book in my estimation, is an issue that’s been cropping up a lot lately. Not only in the SPSFC, but more generally in my reading. This is not a story told in a linear fashion. As soon as the second chapter began with the line ‘Three Hundred Years Ago,’ I knew I was in for a rough ride. There are very few books that can make split timelines work for me, and this sadly is not one. Bruno’s prose is nothing but stellar, but I just wish stories could be told more linearly. But no matter how much this bothers me, I know a lot of people are going to be thrilled at the unravelling mysteries of the different story arcs. Don’t let my personal bugbears put you off if you like the sound of it.
In the Orbit of Sirens is probably the most professionally put together book in this entire contest, and one that’s definitely worth a look.
This review marks the end of our reviews for the inaugural SPSFC. I’ll be back very soon with a roundup of thoughts and errata on the competition, but really the only thing left to do is wait for the other teams, and see who comes out on top. Whoever wins the coveted prize, I’m sure they’ll be deserving of it.