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Book Review: Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell

Genre: Science Fiction
ISBN: 0765315076
ISBN-13: 9780765315076
Format: Hardcover, 320pp
Publisher: Tor
Pub. Date: June 2007

With Crystal Rain, Tobias Buckell broke onto the speculative fiction scene with a bang. The blogosphere just ate him up, giving his Caribbean based science fiction novels rave reviews. In Ragamuffin, Buckell has upped the ante. A Sci Fi Channel Essential Book, Ragamuffin returns to the universe in which Crystal Rain is set. But whereas Crystal Rain’s story takes place entirely on one planet, Ragamuffin expands into the worlds of the not-so-Benevolent Satrapy.

Ragamuffin follows the character of Natasha, a woman who was sent from one of the human controlled worlds (all of which are cut off from contact due to the destruction of their wormholes by the Satrapy) to be a terrorist. Her job is to tap into the lamina, a sort of very advanced internet, and take it over by promulgating and copying her mind. Unfortunately for her, the right opportunity hasn’t arisen, and the Satrapy has gotten wind of her existence. On the run, she turns to the Raga, the remnants of humanity within the Satrapy’s worlds. Meanwhile, Pepper and John deBrun are dealing with an incursion of Teotl into Nanagada from the Spindle, the closed wormhole leading to the Teotl homeworld. All of these characters are on a collision course with each other, and the fate of humanity is at stake.

In the world of Buckell’s imagining, humans are not the dominant race, but are in fact subservient to a mind controlling race called the Satrapy. This results in a tension based on racial factors somewhat reminiscent of Babylon 5. From their lowly position at the bottom of the racial totem pole, humanity has only recently regained the ability to think and do for themselves. Yet there are humans who serve the Satrapy, and when these humans seek to destroy the rogue elements of humanity in the ailing Raga, Natasha steps to the plate.

While humanity as subservient race is not a new concept in science fiction, (think Titan A.E.) Buckell continues to give his characters and story a Caribbean flavor. The Caribbean is truly a hodgepodge of cultures, and Buckell taps that to create a believable universe filled with varying species of intelligent creatures. The antagonism between the species, and between those who support their own species versus those who willingly serve the very species destroying them, drives a great deal of the narrative.

Of particular interest in Ragamuffin was one particular fight scene. Natasha and her companions are forced to traverse the length of a space station in weightlessness while being shot at. The entire scene takes a very long time and is the most fun fight scene I have read in a long time. I really felt the suspense and the fear of the characters as they wondered whether they were going to survive. I gritted my teeth as Natasha did her best to keep herself and her companions alive. For that scene alone the entire novel is worth reading. And of course, the epic space battle at the end of the story, where several different organizations are fighting one another is so complex and action packed that I was flush with excitement.

Buckell has claimed that Ragamuffin is a stand alone novel. I disagree. I think that without having read Crystal Rain, I would have been at a bit of a loss to understand the actions of certain characters, particularly John deBrun and Pepper. However, it is possible to read Ragamuffin without reading Crystal Rain, as there is a bare bones summary of the first novel that will allow the reader to enjoy Ragamuffin. But I think that reading Crystal Rain will give the reader a better sense of Ragamuffin in particular the characters of John deBrun and Pepper, and give a better understanding of the antagonism towards the Teotl which is hard to get by just reading Ragamuffin. And while the epic space battle at the end is exhilarating, it can be difficult to follow the narrative due to the great number of elements that are part of the story. Still, it should not be a deterrent to reading the novel.

I continue to recommend Tobias Buckell as an author extraordinaire. His novels are lively, exciting, and original. Ragamuffin continues in the grand tradition of Crystal Rain. Put these novels on your Christmas list this year.