Sunborn (Chaos Chronicles)
by Jeffrey A. Carver
Edited by James Frenkel
Cover Artist: Stephan Martiniere
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312864538
Date: 28 October 2008 List Price $27.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK Carver's website.
Briefly, Earthman John Bandicut, an explorer helping to map Triton, one of the moons of Neptune, encountered an alien device and ended up with an alien symbiote, a quarx named Charlie, inside his head telling him that the Earth is in danger. The quarx has a habit of dying and being reborn with a slightly different personality. In the other volumes John, Charlie, and companions from three other alien races, plus John's two increasingly sentient robots, end up saving other worlds. John and the aliens have semi-sentient alien translator stones (that also have other abilities occasionally used). By the time Sunborn starts, John has formed a sexual relationship with Antares, an alien with empathic abilities.
Sunborn easily is the most ambitious of the novels, dealing with sentient stars and a machine intelligence trying to explode them to create the requisite heavy elements to create more machines and, not-so-incidentally, incinerate the pesky organic lifeforms. The book begins with John and his companions tired from their previous adventures and reluctant to get involved when their star spanner arrives at a waystation suffering from hypergravity shock waves emanating from the Starmaker (Great Orion) Nebula. Still, some of the characters are close to breakdown from all their labors and the stress of communicating with the star. At one point Charlie, now a female Charlene, dies while trying to communicate with the space-cloud alien, leaving a Charlene-echo. And there is fear that the machine intelligences are trying to infect the companions or possibly their robots or reprogram their translator stones.
Meanwhile, back on Triton, Julie Stone, who in the first book was briefly John's girlfriend, encounters the translator and this time is allowed to let the authorities learn of its existence. She ultimately learns that Earth is still in danger and that she, with the aid of the translator stones, is the only one who can save it. Unusually for a novel, the two plotlines never meet (although this could become part of any fifth volume.)
One problem with the previous books in this series is that the characters are essentially reactive to situations and mostly under the control of others. Here a major subplot is that the companions insist on greater authority and want control of the ship. At one point, when they have at least some control, one of the aliens asks Jeeves, a robot running the ship, if that control extended to giving up on their mission. He replies that he does not know what he would do then. Gradually, the companions accept their mission and take an active role in sorting the situation out. New to the cast are some other aliens including a hyperdimensional cone and an intelligent space cloud. This remedies a problem with the earlier books in that some of the aliens did not seem to behave different from humans. Carver also develops some of the aliens' backstories and characteristics, especially Antares.
Sunborn will be enjoyed by readers who like grand scale science fiction and characters with a little depth. Much of the book is spent in having the characters figure out what is really going on and trying different ways to help. It is possible to read this fourth book in the Chaos Chronicles without reading the other three – although such a reader would be fairly confused in the beginning – but with the earlier books available for free downloading by the author, this is not necessary.