This is how I want my space opera, fast, explosive, expansive and inclusive. This story takes advantage of having a huge universe to play in, with so may different milieus in the worlds n which to immerse and explore.
A multifaced view from well-developed characters diverse in origin and focus in a future star-spanning human, and transhuman, civilization dealing with an incursion of, in the author's words, 'Space Nazis'. It's an apt descriptor but these villains The Sturm are much more entertaining by being uptodate.
Anyone who has thrilled to any kind of space opera - this has what you want. If you loved S.A Corey's The Expanse books/TV series (oh when will those streaming services realize the untapped gems that reside in the author's bibliography) with the fast-paced spaceship scenes and cracking dialog of those tales then winner of the Star of Valor Lieutenant Lucinda Hardy is your stop on this wild ride. If you like the hard-boiled noir of Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon novels/tv series has you covered from the moment you meet Ariana and her crew in a bar fight with Yakuza in an orbital habitat Eassar worthy of the best John Woo action has to offer. They also include my favorite character Jaddi COTO for his DRAX the Destoryeresque view of the world.
For those you were engrossed in the world-building of Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch may I give you a pissed-off Princess Alessia Szu Suri sur Montanblanc ul Haq.
The weapons-grade snark hurled between Professor McLennan and his floating synthetic Armada class intellect will recall fondly those of Ian M Bank's Culture series and their minds and ship names. Though I quibble with his outdated views on the effect of the addition of water in whiskey, the good professor clearly lacks the friendship of anyone with a chemistry degree.
There are others all as well developed and with a unique voice but the story stands or falls on how crafted is the villain all these great characters face and in the Laconophilic the STRUM the story doesn't falter. A future incarnation of the sort of group a bunch of MRAs would collectively onanistically spill into existence.
But if this makes it sound like a grab bag of themes, styles, and characters I apologise because that doesn't describe what John Birmingham has achieved here. This is a literary gestalt a synergystic whole much greater than the sum of its parts.
The Cruel Stars is John Birmingham exercising his writing chops to maximum effect. This is a rollicking Space Opera written from five different points of view. The switching between each character arc is handled well and doesn’t become a head spin. Character development is on point whether it be a death row inmate, a pirate captain or a spoilt princess. That’s not to mention the cranky old Scotsman or the young (but storied) naval lieutenant who is thrust into a command position at the outset of war. Birmingham has thrown forward the concept of computer hacking to establish conditions of attack by The Sturm on the Human Expanse. Race purists vs everyone else. The results are harsh and uncompromising. There’s lots of people who die in very unpleasant circumstances and enough explosions to keep a special effects company in profit for decades. Because the ‘splosions are very spectacular and really necessary. Trust me on this. Countering all this destruction are great characters who exude human frailties and faults as well as qualities of strength, honour and courage. Bind that with fast paced action driven by what seems to be a Matthew Reilly turbocharged engine and add in a wallop of cracking dialogue and this is how Space Opera should be.
The strength in the books I love is always in the characters. This is one of those. Great characters you can really get behind, sometimes irreverent sometimes flawed but that makes them more worthy. From then on the story just takes you and them for a great ride. Not everyone survives, but then it would be a comic book and not a story that brings you back. Loved it and look forward to lots more.
This is a great book and I would recommend it to anyone that likes science fiction.
The start is a little confusing because Birmingham doesn't hold the readers hand and there is a lot of jargon to explain technology and concepts in the setting, but after a couple of chapters all of this is explained without much in terms of walls of exposition.
The great strength of this book is the characters. Birmingham has about seven or eight point of view characters that are all exceptionally well drawn, as are the other main characters around them. You end up caring about these characters and Birmingham hasn't forgotten to add a few laughs among the grimness. One of the bits I liked best is when several are mourning the death of their companions. One of them says, “she is with Allah now.” Another character suddenly says, “oh no they killed Allah as well!?”
I'm very pleased that this is just the first book in a series as I am now looking forward to the others.
JB has smashed it out of the solar system with this page-turner. Standing on the shoulders of giants, JB reaches up, and out, bringing us a wonderfully realised universe, a thoroughly enjoyable story and some solid characters. William Gibson, Philip K Dick, Iain M Banks, Peter F Hamilton - the list goes on. If you have enjoyed books by any of these authors, then just get this book now and start reading, you can thank me later.
I thoroughly enjoyed this first in a series and look forward to reading more of the Cruel Stars trilogy. There appeared to be some disconnect with how the disparate storyline’s were going to converge but converge they did. I also had trouble keeping track of all the different streams and had to back-read a bit to get it all straight. All in all a good read that promises more.
I read dozens of military sci-fi books each year. Many by authors who pump out half a dozen books a year, and have been doing so for years. So when one of my favourite authors decides to take on the genre, I'm both excited and a little worried. What are they going to bring to the table that ask of these other authors haven't already?
This book is like Birmingham stepped into a party full of those authors and proclaimed "Oh, so you write military sci-fi? Here, hold my beer..."
This book is a fantastic example of quality over quantity for the genre. Thankfully, as the first in a trilogy, looks like we'll get the quantity as well.
Long a fan of the writer, I was both awaiting and dreading this. Would form be maintained in a new genre? Fortunately it has. This was exciting Space Opera, with action humour and even some pathos. You can tell the influence of other writers (Ringo, Drake, Stirling, and Hamilton come to mind) but this is a successful blend of the ideas those authors have raised in one series or another. The pace is cracking, characters are sufficiently deep enough to invest in and the action scenes are authentic. If you are a fan of this genre then you will NOT be disappointed.
JB's blurb that preceded The Cruel Stars did not do it justice. This work is even more enthralling than AoT and has the same credibility about it while having an even more fantastic and imaginative plot. Pity it is only part of a trilogy. When I have the other two they will be reread multiple times. I will be suffering withdrawal symptoms till they arrive
4.5 stars The Cruel Stars is the first book I have read from John Birmingham and I really enjoyed It. A very well written Sci Fi book. It started very slowly and I was unsure about the first 3rd of the book. But the last half of the book really came home with the characters and the action scenes.
This is a fast paced novel written from five different points of view. The switching between each character is handled well and each character develops throughout the novel.
Birmingham has put forward an interesting and plausible concept of computer aided and part cyborg humans V The Sturm who believe in human purity and are the aggressors in the book wanting to terminate those that aren’t pure and take back Earth and its colonies. Lots of action with enough minor characters dying.
Fun and engrossing read from a fellow Aussie looking forward to the next book.