July 2006

Crystal Rain
A novel by Tobias S. Buckell
Tor Books
ISBN: 0765312271
351 pages

From the jacket:

Cover of 'Crystal Rain' by Tobias Buckell ISBN 0765312271 "Long ago, so the stories say, the old-fathers came to Nanagada through a worm’s hole in the sky. Looking for a new world to call their own, they brought with them a rich mélange of cultures, religions, and dialects from a far-off planet called Earth. Mighty were the old-fathers, with the power to shape the world to their liking— but what was many generations ago, and what was once known has long been lost. Where people once looked up to see great silver cities in the sky, steamboats and gas-filled blimps now traverse the planet.

"Like his world, John deBrun has forgotten more than he remembers. Twenty-seven years ago, he washed up onto the shore of Nanagada with no memory of his past. Although he has made a new life for himself, his soul remains haunted by unanswered questions about his own identity.

"These mysteries take a new urgency when the fearsome Azteca storm over the Wicked High Mountains in search of fresh blood and heart to feed their cruel, inhuman gods. Nanagada’s only hope lies in a mythical artifact, the Ma Wi Jung, said to be hidden somewhere in the frozen north. And only John deBrun knows the device’s secrets, even if he can’t remember why or how?"

Tobias S. Buckell boldly enters the world of science fiction novels with his first book, Crystal Rain. Already known as a talented writer of short stories, having won the Writers of the Future contest in 1999, Tobias proves equal mastery over longer forms of fiction. Composed both of familiar elements of classic SF and Tobias’ unique talent for dialect and character building, Crystal Rain opens with a fast pace that never relents. Mysteries concerning Nanagada’s past and the life of John deBrun permeate the book, intensifying the tension-filled plot. Tobias reveals answers to these mysteries throughout the book, but he reserves the juiciest morsels for the end, giving Crystal Rain a satisfying conclusion.

Of particular interest is Tobias’ use of various dialects throughout the novel, especially those of Caribbean origin. At first the dialogue slows the pace of reading, but after a few chapters I found myself zipping along, enjoying the musicality of the prose. Crystal Rain celebrates humanity’s diversity while, at the same time, showing how contrasting ideologies lead to war and suffering. The metaphor is quite applicable to human history: what makes us unique and beautiful can also divide, and people can be driven to horrible acts of violence when they are deceived by those in positions of power.

Crystal Rain stands alone as a wonderfully entertaining novel, but its universe is ripe for sequels, perhaps even prequels: it would take many novels to explain in detail why humanity was driven to Nanagada in the first place. If you are looking for a fun, fast-paced novel that will entertain you for 350 pages, this is for you. And buy the first edition hardcover if you can. I suspect that Mr. Buckell will become a voice to be reckoned with for years to come.

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