by Marguerite Reed
Edited by Darin Bradley
Review by Katie Carmien
Arche Press Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781630230111
Date: 12 May 2015 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The planet of Ubastis is kept pristine, safe from the destruction of humanity, by strict immigration regulations. Vashti Loren, widow of the revered Doctor Undset, is a hybrid of scientist, soldier, and tour guide: she brings offworlders on hunting trips to show them the beauty of Ubastis, and why it must be protected from mass immigration. When her friend Moira smuggles a genetically engineered soldier onto the planet, Vashti wants him dead--but his arrival is no coincidence. Humanity is once more coming together to vote on immigration to Ubastis. If Vashti doesn't act soon, her beloved planet may face the same fate as the ruined Earth.
This is one of the freshest, most original portrayals of the future I've seen yet. While culture has evolved, it hasn't mushed together into one vaguely-American ethnic paste, and new values have risen to prominence--vegetarianism, nonviolence, genetic engineering for the increase of both. Most of humantiy lives on space stations, and planets are a hotly contested resource, especially after the near-total destruction of Earth's ecosystems. It's frighteningly plausible, even though the science isn't quite "hard". The prose is gorgeous, painting vivid pictures of an alien world and alien animals.
Vashti is also a compelling protagonist--fiercely loving yet still fragile in her grief, protective and angry. Her relationship with her daughter Bibi is sweet and realistic. Her interactions with O-839 and the way her mistrust and hatred slowly grows into a willingness to work with him. O-389 himself is a fascinating take on the clone; he clings to his self-determination and identity, but is so deeply brainwashed that for the first half of the book he's not even capable of referring to himself as "I".
However, the biggest problem with the book is that Vashti, for all that she's wonderful, is incredibly reactive. Reed never allows her to make a decision without having outside factors shove her around first. The one decision she does make on her own, to attempt to execute O-389, fails miserably. To be fair, she is something of a holding pattern after her husband's death, but it is still somewhat irritating that even the choice she makes at the climax of the book, a hugely important and revolutionary political move, is reactive instead of proactive. Vashti could have been so much more if only Reed had had her act first.
Still, Archangel was a beautiful read, and I would definitely recommend it, especially to those who enjoy the societal side of speculative fiction.
From: Marguerite Reed:
Incisive. Carmien gets it.