The vacuum of space is filled with treachery.
C.T. Phipps and Michael Suttkus endeavor to put their own stamp on the space opera genre with Lucifer’s Star, a novel spanning their galaxy and the ongoing conflicts taking place within it. Into this setting, these gentlemen introduce us to a former fighter pilot whose noble bloodline has had him on the run since his people became the whipping posts for every bad thing ever done before they were taken down, and to be sure, they were pretty awful, but the focus of reparations seems more about getting the rich richer while the common folks just live under another type of heel.
Sci-fi is a great place for progressive ideas to take root. After all, how easy is it to assume that some other planet accepts the fact that sex organs don’t necessarily determine sexuality or gender, that the most oppressive regimes are the ones that most closely resemble systems here in our world, and that the problems that we deal with wouldn’t be wiped away just because of the advent of space travel by faster-than-light speeds. I find it fascinating that it’s the folks who most often look to the stars who seem to accept the world for all the differences it holds within it, and there’s no shortage of “alternative” cultural norms on display within this universe, including the main character revering both God and Lucifer (sometimes called the “God below,” which has an interesting mashup with Taoist duality going on which I find very fun) which is the norm on his world, and not the reason that it was bombarded with space rocks. The second half of that sentence makes me smile, because these guys understand the basics of astrophysics and know that simple mass can be the most devastating weapon in space.
This book is filled with great thought and scientific stretches of the truth that aren’t terribly far from the bleeding edges of science fact today. I think the most important element that stands out, however, is the characters. Phipps and Suttkus have taken some of the most iconic and tropey stock characters and managed to breathe a more truthful life into them. There’s something familiar and yet strikingly different about every one you meet, and chances are you won’t necessarily like every one of them. For me, I’m not a huge fan of the narrator and protagonist, partly because when he’s consistent, he tends to be an absolute ass, but there are some storytelling hiccups that make him inconsistent in situations that seem a bit sideways, but I’ll get into that in the next paragraph. I enjoy the fact that everyone else is better than our hero in some way, especially considering the moon-sized ego he lugs around, and that makes those characters really become the ones you root for. Isla and Clarice are great, and Ida is as much fun as a cipher as you’ll meet in the genre.
I think the only thing limiting the story is the seeming lack of limitation. There’s a lot going on in every chapter, and I don’t mean with subtext and nuance. There’s just a metric ton of events that drive the action forward at a reckless pace but don’t seem to allow for the deep introspective moments that people have (which are usually explained through some time-perception MacGuffin) or really make you feel that there’s a consistent world behind the action at all. Every few paragraphs things will change, with someone introducing another shadowy plan with the requisite added shadowy figures running it. The plots within plots are a constant stream which instead of making me fall deeper into the world, had the effect of me distancing myself from the latest “truth” a bit, because I knew that it wouldn’t last through the end of the chapter. Much like meeting a new BAMF character in Westeros, you know they won’t be around long, so you have to fight falling in love with them. It almost feels as if the authors would pitch one idea and then the other would “yes, and…” without any idea being pulled from the narrative. Whatever the approach, I still love the vast inclusion of interesting ideas and the unbridled imagination behind it, I just think a bit if judicious editing would allow for the plot to flow just a touch more smoothly.
This is a great, action-oriented sci-fi romp that brings up moral questions for both the characters and the reader on a frequent basis. There’s a great deal of intelligence behind the work, and a cast of characters that will draw you in with their pain and their triumph. I recommend the book for anyone who likes Star Wars with a dose of Star Trek-style moral quandary tossed in for spice. There’s a great deal to enjoy here, and if these guys continue to move forward in this world, I look forward to seeing how they and the universe develop.
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