This book follows Velocity Weapon, which you should read before reading this. In the far future, humanity has spread through space with the help of gates that allow instantaneous travel between star systems. The company that developed the gate technology has before the effective interstellar government, and they go to great lengths to safeguard their monopoly, keeping their technology secret and preventing any FTL research.
In the first book, we followed an attempt by the planet Icarus to break away from the monopoly. On the sides, we saw a petty criminal stumble onto what appears to be a huge secret. In this book, these strands are brought together. The background of gate development, as well as recent events is explained. The different characters meet and develop a common plan. The parts of the plot that frustrated me in the first book, since I didn’t understand them, are made clear. The characters become more compelling and relatable as their backgrounds are revealed. This is the rare second book that actually makes the first book better.
This is the second book in this far future opera series. It can be read without having read the first book. While the two main characters continue from the first book, the other characters are new, the setting and the main issue the characters need to deal with are different. The book ends with things wrapped up, I don’t know if there are further books planned in the series.
The characters in the book, both old and new are fantastic. The relationship between the two main characters deepens in a compelling way, when they fight, it is not due to a lack of communication but deep cultural differences. This book continues to do a good job illustrating how the powerful Empire and tiny Lsel Station relate to each other.
However, I found the first contact scenario with the aliens to be less well drawn. When we can imagine that a group of aliens might be a hive mind, why would the Empire not include that as a possibility from the first and vice versa? Why doesn’t the fleet include a team of xenobiologists and linguists from the start, even if all you want to do is fight, it is useful to be able to understand the enemy language so you can spy on them. And what kind of bureaucratic system lets a mid level employ assign a task to herself without a supervisors approval?
Set in the near future, this book is not a novel, more like a series of futurist articles. The theme is climate change, following a heat wave in India that kills twenty million people, The Ministry for the Future is established to fight climate change. They make slow progress.
Twenty million is a ridiculous number, especially as the temperature given is not that high – India had close to those temperatures last year with a few hundred deaths. The deadliest heat wave, per Wikipedia, was a few years ago in Russia where fifty eight thousand died at much lower temperatures. Since the death toll depends not only on the weather but what the system and infrastructure is built to accommodate. I mention this because KSR specifically talks in the book about the European tendency to assume hear waves are a somewhere else problem. Yet he seems to have done the same.
There are many ideas presented about how to help the world. Some like carbon credits have been extensively talked about already and the EU has already started using them. Others like stabilizing the glaciers seems to be novel. The main thing that the author overlooks is that while some business may be resistant to these changes, there are many others who are interested in combatting climate change and see potential profit in doing so.
The most unrealistic thing is the sci fi trope of the perfect terrorist organization that reaches all its targets, no matter how well protected, and never gets caught. No one ever defects and they are never infiltrated by the police. It is ridiculous and morally dubious. I would prefer to see some of these people fined or jailed, though I understand KSR considers this to be even more unlikely.