Monday 14 February 2022

Far From The Light Of Heaven - Review

One of Thompson’s great strengths as a writer is his ability to balance poetry and prose for a science
Far From The Light Of Heaven
balances modernity and tradition
within the science fiction genre.
(Image via Goodreads)

fiction audience, providing vividly visceral visuals that don’t slow down the narrative or distract from the characterizations. It’s a skill that’s on full display in Far From The Light Of Heaven, Thompson’s follow-up to the Wormwoood trilogy that earned him both a Clarke Award and a spot on the Hugo Award shortlist.

And what a follow up it is.

Set on an interstellar transport named The Ragtime, first mate Michelle “Shel” Campion awakens early from suspended animation to discover that thirty-odd passengers on the enormous colony ship have been killed and dismembered. Since the ship is at this point relatively close to their destination of Bloodroot, local detective Rasheed Fin is dispatched to investigate, and becomes embroiled in Shel’s attempts to keep the rest of her passengers alive despite The Ragtime’s rogue Artificial Intelligence captain’s attempts to thwart them.

Of course, a locked-room mystery on a spaceship is not a new set-up (notably implemented in Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty, which was a Hugo finalist in 2018), but the combination of Thompson’s agile pacing, worldbuilding rooted in Yoruba culture, and evocative prose make Far From The Light Of Heaven a standout. Weirdly improbable scenes such as the appearance of a wolf and flashbacks to a mining town are drawn out with convincingly detailed and precise language that manages to be both clear and evocative.
Mr. Thompson quit Twitter
earlier this year. 
(Image via The Guardian)

Thompson allows the tension to build slowly, and doesn’t play his hand too quickly, which lets the mystery provide both a compelling plot and a device with which to strategically introduce pieces of the setting to the reader. This includes themes of economic justice, leading us to believe that Thompson recognizes that imbalances of power exist across myriad cultures and that these imbalances metastasize in especially destructive ways in environments of unmitigated capitalism.

Far From The Light Of Heaven also provides some of Thompson’s best character work. As the two primary protagonists, Shel and Racheed’s disparate backgrounds and motivations lead to tensions and conflict that feel natural and believable.

Astute readers will, however, find some slight plot hiccups. An “experimental” section of the spacecraft is mentioned in passing at the beginning but only explored midway through the book even though it seems as if a place filled with dangerous life forms would be the first place any fatality investigation should start. Likewise, the fact that the richest man in all the cosmos is aboard would seem like an early lead, rather than a later one.

We might also note that the alien “Lambers” add very little to the overall narrative other than confusion about what they are. Whatever they are, and whatever their relationship to the colonists on Bloodroot, it doesn’t really affect the story.

But these are minor quibbles, Far From The Light Of Heaven is a superb book that deserves your attention.

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