Looking at the heading on this review I realized with
surprise that Wasteland of Flint is over five hundred pages long. If
you'd have asked me I would have told you it wasn't very long, but that
it was a lot of fun. Fortunately I got the latter part right. Based
somewhat on the author's game Lords of the Earth,
which takes place between the year 700 AD to
1780 AD and projected forward into the 2400s it
begins the saga of the Sixth Sun, in an alternate future when Aztec and
Imperial Japanese have dominated the Earth and are moving out into the
galactic reaches to take their prideful place in the galaxy. Like Brin's
Uplift Universe, the galaxy has already been full of civilized races for
quite a while, and the upstart humans may find themselves pawns rather
than kings and queens.
Gretchen Anderson is a company archeologist on the edge of human civilization who finds herself suddenly in charge of a recovery operation hastily assembled to find out what happened to a company survey mission that fell silent while scouting a world that bore indications of having been shaped be the ancient and powerful alien race known as the First Sun. Though the expeditions starship appears to be intact, and its experimental tachyon communicator seems to be powered up, nothing has been heard from the explorer scientists for a week.
Hoping to salvage the starship, or even the mission, the company sends Gretchen and a small but quirky crew to see what can be saved. The empire happens to be sending a warship along out of concern for what concern for what the scientists may have stirred up. So Gretchen and her crew hitch a ride.
The captain, an imperial Japanese officer named Hadeishi, commands a small warship that's been too long on the edge of known space. He is a good tactician, very honorable honorable, and of course he feels the weight of tradition, and of responsibility for his crew. Unfortunately, the same things that make him an effective and trustworthy captain mean that he has no friends in the emperor's court, no house beholden to him, no trump cards in his secret folder. He likes being out on the edge of nothing, where merit and loyalty are the most important things, and politics rarely intrudes. Rarely, but not never.
The third force, or the third human force in the story is present in the form of Green Hummingbird, an Aztec priest along partly as a political officer, but mostly to execute his own agenda, doing the work of the priesthood. His order knows how frail humanity is in the face of ancient forces slumbering in the depths of space, and he's committed to making sure they remain asleep, or at least unaware of humankind.
When the expedition arrives at the planet, they find the ship mysteriously cleaned out, and deeper mysteries on the planet's surface below. I'm not going any further so that you can have the fun of discovering, along with the characters, what mysteries this planet holds, what dangers they face, and indeed, what wonders will be revealed. I enjoyed it on many levels, technological, sociological, and even (in a Shamanic/Shintoesque/Aztecan sort of way) on a spiritual plane.
There are a number of familiar elements here, including a female archeologist, a maverick naval captain, big corporations, a Terran empire determined to take its place at the head of galactic rule, despite being a newcomer in this orbit. Despite these comfortable icons, both Wasteland of Flint and its sequel, House of Reeds, defy categorization. If you think that either book is just another entry in an already replete genre, nothing could be further from the truth.
If you like Brin's Uplift series, Jack MecDevit's Deepsix and others, Niven and Pournelle's Mote in Gods Eye or Nicole Griffith's Slow River (it's an outlier in this crowd, but I bet I'm right), you'll like these. And vice versa.