Sly Mongoose Hardcover – Aug 19 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Buckell returns to the universe of Crystal Rain (2006) and Ragamuffin (2007) for another action-packed story of human colonists fighting to survive on an alien world with all the odds against them. The story bounces between two protagonists: teenage Timas, one of the few inhabitants of the floating spherical city of Yatapek who can maintain the enormous mining machine that harvests ore from the furnace-hot surface of Venus-like Chilo, and Pepper, aka Juan Smith, an elite Ragamuffin soldier from New Anegada who'd prefer to forget about his violent past. As the only survivor of a ship infected with a virus that turns people into murderous zombie slaves of the alien Swarm, the last thing Pepper wants is another fight, but with the Swarm making inroads on Chilo, he has little choice. Buckell delivers double helpings of action and violence in a plot-driven story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. (Aug.)
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“Sly Mongoose combines weird and wonderful tech and human cultures of fantastic diversity with some of the coolest planet-building this side of Hal Clement.”—Elizabeth Bear
“Tobias S. Buckell is a dazzling new voice.”—Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award–Winning author of Hominids on Crystal Rain
“Ragamuffin is a winner.”—San Jose Mercury News
“First-class space adventure, with tip-top characterization, action, and world-building. May Buckell enjoy a long, productive career.”—Booklist on Ragamuffin
“Buckell plays with Caribbean and Aztec cultures, bending their exotic flavor to technology-flavored ends. A lot of fun.”—Publishers Weekly on Ragamuffin
“Crystal Rain is refreshing and imaginative, an exotic stew of cultures, myths, and technology.”—Kevin J. Anderson, bestselling co-author of Sandworms Of Dune
“Buckell’s first novel conjures a vividly imagined world, spiced with intrigue and adventure that unfolds at a breakneck pace.”—Booklist on Crystal Rain
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
One of the things I love about Buckell's work is that his books in this series have enough similarity of style, exploration, themes, etc. (not to mention the fantastic character of Pepper!) to satisfy someone who's looking for more of 'the same'. However, each one is also quite different from the previous books, so you certainly won't feel bored with the material! Each book takes place some time after the previous one, in this case several generations later. Each book explores a different part of the universe, although at the same time it takes on the consequences of previous plots. So there's a ton of new material while also a few familiar threads to hold onto. This also means that the books can stand alone, although you'll have an easier time following some things if you know what came before.
The characters are complex and interesting. As usual it could be argued that Pepper is actually not the main character, although perhaps he is more so in Sly Mongoose than in the last two books. This is a great approach, because Pepper's certainly not your standard hero, nor even your standard anti-hero, and it's often both useful and important to see events through other people's eyes as well.
In many ways Buckell's books hearken back to an earlier style of hard SF that drops you straight into highly alien situations and lets you absorb it all, rather than starting from something familiar. They also contain a strong element of exploration with regard to alien sentience, societal and governmental structures, and so on. Most refreshingly, he explores all sorts of positive and negative aspects of these things without holding up a sharp agenda. It's writing that makes you think, not writing that preaches. He also writes with an incredibly unique flavor that I've not seen in any other author's books, so if you're looking for something new, his books are a great bet!
Buckell returns to the universe of his previous 2 novels and humanity is still misplacing it's resentment toward its (now former) alien overlords by finding new and exciting ways of killing each other. The setting is what initially sets this book apart from your average adventure filled science fiction yarn. The caustic Venus like atmosphere of Chilo offers us a dizzying array of floating cities, air ships, clockwork dragons, but the people that choose to live on Chilo give the story its soul.
If you've read the Crystal rain, you'll recognize the Azteca. If you've read Ragamuffin you'll recognize the Consensus as an extrapolation of democracy enabled by the Lamina technology. If you've read either, you'll love seeing Pepper in action. If this is the first book you read by Buckell, it'll definitely entice you to read the previous books.
So the plot was good but the book is full of cliches, as others have pointed out. I leave you with two things: the main bad-ass character actually acts like a bad-ass and often sacrifices others, or others' opinions of him, to get to a positive solution for the whole. To the point of quickly killing someone when he could have probably just restrained them during a fight. He's totally a take-no-prisoners kind of guy. If there is no point in keeping a threat alive, he doesn't. On the downside, when the ragamuffin-types talk using pidgin (broken English) it's annoying. I know the author is from the Caribbean but it's annoying down there too. And it seems like the "talk" slipped a few times into the editing of the regular paragraph descriptions. And THAT is one of my biggest pet peeves: bad editing.
Still, it's a fun, easy read. I probably would have loved it as a 13 or 14-year-old. Now as a 30 something, it's a decent way to pass a few nights instead of watching bad T.V.
Sly Mongoose is Tobias Buckell's third novel, set in the same universe as Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin, but Pepper is the only character from the earlier books. As with Ragamuffin, this isn't a direct sequel, though it does continue the larger story Buckell is creating about humans struggling to survive and find their place as they discover just how dangerous a place this universe can be.
Sly Mongoose is set primarily on the planet of Chilo, a loosely Venus-like planet with crushing gravity, a corrosive atmosphere ... generally not a pleasant place to live. The inhabitants live in floating cities, descending to the surface to maintain the outdated and unreliable mining equipment. It's a hard life, and when Pepper drops in, it gets a lot harder. The Swarm (space zombies!) is coming, searching for a secret hidden on Chilo's surface, and they're prepared to kill anyone and everyone in their way.
Buckell does a lot of cool things in this book. For starters, Chilo's inhabitants are the descendants of the Azteca from Crystal Rain. One complaint I had about Crystal Rain was that the Aztecs came across as fairly straightforward villains without as much depth as I wanted. Sly Mongoose develops them into fully fleshed out people, still struggling to live down the shame of their ancestors' actions back on New Anegada.
Sly Mongoose leaves me curious where Buckell is going with this series. He's setting up a very dangerous and violent universe, one in which humanity will either need to unite and work together, or face extinction. Behind the obvious threat of the Swarm lies another enemy, and further in the shadows an even larger threat could be lurking.
The young miner Timas is a good character, but Pepper steals the book. Pepper is a highly practical, survival-oriented warrior. He's an interesting one ... long-lived, and having survived enough wars to warp any man. There are times he seems to be running on automatic, more machine than human, and throughout the book you see Timas and others trying to break through to that kernel of humanity. Sometimes they seem to reach him. Other times, Pepper just lets them think so, because it suits Pepper's plans at that particular moment. Definitely not a nice man, but a fascinating one, and a useful guy to have around in a war.
Overall, I'd say this is the best of the three books, an action-filled page-turner that left me eager to read number four.