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Sly Mongoose by Tobias S. Buckell
Cover Artist: Todd Lockwood
Review by Tom Easton
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765319203
Date: 19 August 2008 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Review by Bill Lawhorn / Show Official Info /

Tobias S. Buckell introduced in Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin a universe in which humans were a persecuted minority. Under the alien-dominated Benevolent Satrapy, humans lived in reservations or ghettoes. Some worked as mercenaries for the alien overlords, the Satraps. Some existed as pampered pets. A few had managed ages before to flee to isolated worlds such as New Anegada, populated by a mixed bag of Caribbeans, Aztec wannabes, French-speakers, and others. Unfortunately, humans weren't the only ones fleeing the Satrapy; the Teotl had also come to New Anegada, where they set themselves up as gods for the Aztec types. Into this setting came the ancient warrior Pepper, who first had to sort out the conflicts on New Anegada, and then move out into the Satrapy, where humans were at last rebelling against the Satraps.

The end result is a human realm divided between the League, who believe all human worlds must be unified to deal with the alien threats that hover outside the human realm, and the independents led by the New Anegadans. In between lies the DMZ, which includes the world of Chilo, the setting of Sly Mongoose.

Chilo is a lot like Venus. Cities float in a hot, acidic atmosphere. The rich ones subsist on asteroidal metals and other resources. The poor ones, such as Yatapek, ride the winds around a huge vortex (like Jupiter's Red Spot storm) and send down machines and miners. Since their tech is old, they use kids thin enough to fit in the suits they have to wear (and who must be bulimic to stay thin enough). Since suitable kids and the suits are in short supply, any family with such a kid occupies a top spot in the local economy.

And here comes Pepper again, falling out of the sky in a spacesuit riding a makeshift ablative shield. He was on a ship whose passengers and crew began changing to strange zombie-like things that would bite any ordinary person. Once bitten, a victim would also become a zombie. The ship's captain, before succumbing, put the ship on course for Chilo's sun. Pepper managed to kill most of the zombies before abandoning ship, but he's got bad news: A few of the zombies managed to escape too, heading for Chilo.

Unfortunately, he hits Yatapek rather hard when he lands. He's short an arm and a leg, and pieces of Yatapek fall to the ground below where Timas is trying to repair a mining machine. One chunk puts paid to the machine. The kid's okay, but before he goes back up he thinks he sees an alien in the murk.

Aliens? That's heresy to his elders, for they have tried to forget their past as Azteca victims of alien "gods" on New Anegada. But here's Pepper with his story. Zombies are coming to Chilo for a reason. Cities are falling silent as zombies take them over. And zombie forces are converging on Yatapek. They want whatever lies below, and Pepper wants to know much more about what Timas saw.

You'll enjoy this one. Buckell has once again given us a very readable adventure with excellent plot and characters. The basic message stresses the value of independence in the face of even the best-intended paternalism, with a hint that perhaps the paternalists have a point. If he does more in the series, that could make things tough for humanity. But he also clearly loves the classic "underdog wins" theme, so…

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