This is another Wiebe review!
Contact with aliens was made fourty years ago, but communication turned out to be impossible. Humans don’t share a way of thinking with with any of the alien species, let alone a grammar. But there is trade, trade that produces scientific advances that would have taken thousands of years.
Earth may be a better place but it is no longer our own. We may be colonizing the stars, but we’re dependent on inexplicable alien netherspace drives, and they come at a heavy cost: live humans. When a group of colonists are captured by Cancri aliens, a human mission is sent to negotiate their releasse. But how can you negotiate when you don’t know what your target wants or why they took your people in the first place?
For my next read I semi-randomly picked Netherspace by Andrew Lane and Nigel Foster out of our many boxes of too-read-books. Our bookcases are coming next Monday (Editor’s Note: This review was written on November 16, the bookcases are standing right now). I had to put this book down after reading 130-some pages, as I was starting to hate-read this book. I know I am a very particular and unforgiving reader. Anytime the setting or the writing style takes me out of the story to go “wtf!” it detracts from my reading experience. This book did this too often and I just had to put it down.
The backdrop for this story is a weird – not post-apocalyptic – world. Aliens have come and therefore the human race just gave up, but with alien tech earth is the better place for it. Civilization has altered dramatically, with people just stopping all research, order breaking down and then being restored. Somehow city states are now the new norm on earth, with apparently a global government organization overseeing all alien contact. Despite all this decline, alien tech made the world better and colonization of new planets is in progress. I found the premise a bit fast and loose; it felt like the introduction to an anime series, where the setup is just there to make the characters look cool and/or facilitate awesome action scenes. All this setup is slow, not entirely logical to me and in my opinion it does not work in this book. Since it takes the writers a third of the book just to get the main characters started on their mission we don’t get action extravaganza either. There could be some action later, but it was too late for me.
Another selling point of this novel seems to be aliens that are truly incomprehensible by human minds. I’m not a fan of the Star Trek forehead aliens either, but at least they are memorable to me. These guys had no impact on me whatsoever. All of them are interchangeable, which detracts from their alienness, and seems to make them a plot hook to hang a story on. I much rather prefer David Brin’s aliens from the Uplift Saga, or the Vorlons from Babylon 5. I found the small facts and tantalizing hints in Steven Erikson’s Malazan books, about the Forkull Assail for instance, cool and interesting, even though we never learn much about them at all. None of the aliens in Netherspace are written in such a way and I struggle to remember even how they looked. I think it is how you write them, not what their function is in the story, that makes them interesting for me.
None of the above would have kept me from finishing the book however. My biggest problem was the male gaze of the writers and their fixation on sex. The two female characters, Tatia and Kara get introduced with a physical description fit for an erotic novel. Really I had flashbacks to some pretty corny stuff I read in that category. Also the authors seem to switch from third-person to omnipresent view when they write those parts. Now if this was prevalent throughout the novel, it would be an annoying writing style, but the main male character Mark gets the briefest physical description upon introduction. I also found it jarring that when Mark and Kara meet his first immediate thought is: “good looking, but not my type”. They team up with an pre-cognant and they are of indeterminate sex. Both Marks and Kara’s first thoughts about this character is that they want to bed this person to find out their gender. Not much later Mark meets the crew of the spaceship and he immediately assesses the do-ability of some of the crew, I kid you not. I had to put the book down after that. I shudder to think what the closed setting on this ship in space would do with all this sex-fixation of the writers.
Your mileage may vary, other people seem to like this universe, but if you dislike this male-gaze sex fixation you may want to give Netherspace a pass.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.