Sergei Lukyanenko is an author I will pick up even if the book doesn’t sound like something I will like. His Night Watch Series is amazing. I loved getting the perspective of a Russian author, a non-western perspective, of fantasy and science fiction. When I saw this was available I snapped it up even though I’m not generally a fan of space opera. I enjoyed it. Lukyanenko successfully created an interesting futuristic world. People are part of a socially stratified society of Naturals, Speshes, Clones, and Others . Speshes are humans whose parents paid to have them genetically augmented for a profession. You have fighter speshes, captain speshes, and even street cleaning speshes. Naturals are humans that were born without augmentation and are seen as less than speshes. Clones are below speshes, and Others are aliens. Naturally each group has their prejudices. The social stratification and focus on difference is integral to this novel. The first half is impeccable. The second half, unfortunately, isn’t on the same level.
Alex, a pilot, who recently has been released from hospital with only the clothes on his back is our main character. He heads into the city on the train to find a job. On that train he finds an orphan juvenile spesh on the verge of metamorphosis. Speshes genetic augmentations don’t fully realize until metamorphosis in the teenage years, but what this young juvenile is doing on her own at such a time makes no sense. As a pilot spesh his sense of responsibility is enhanced pushing him to spend the small amount of money he has on food and a room for the juvenile to go through her metamorphosis in. To fund this undertaking he takes a questionable job. It makes him a captain and comes with the added benefit of picking his own crew, but it clearly is to good to be true. This part of the book was interesting. I fell into a trance and I didn’t allow myself to be interrupted from it.
The second part, where the crew is on the ship, gets convoluted. They are flying Zzygou tourists, an alien race similar to humans. Every crew member has a reason to not want to fly to the destination of Edem, fly with the Zzygou companion of a clone, or fly with Others. When one of the Zzygou is murdered on the ship it is learned she is an important figure. A detective clone, by the name of Holmes, and his assistant ,Watson, are brought on the ship to determine who the murderer is. They must solve the case or war will break out, a war that will only end with the extermination of two civilizations.
The book delves into what makes a person human, unique, and individual. Part of a pilot’s specialization leaves him without the ability to love. Alex implanted an emotion sensor in the shape of a demon to allow him to read the emotions he doesn’t feel. He consults it regularly. His curiosity for the emotion of love and what it would mean to have it grows as he enters into sexual relationships with his crew members. This caused me some frustration. The two women on board are vastly different but are also blatant stereotypes. They are cardboard. I normally would see this as a literary failing in the book but the speshes are created to be stereotypes. They are genetically engineered stereotypes. Lukyanenko sheds light on this in later chapters. The captain, however, entered into a sexual relationship with the young fighter spesh he helped through her metamorphosis. She is also a hetaera spesh, similar to a geisha, that is genetically enhanced to provide sexual pleasure and fall in love with her companions for the brief amount of time she is with them. The genetic alteration seems to excuse what the reader will see as an irresponsible and predatory act. Lukyanenko addresses this too. It is an interesting facet of the book. Lukyanenko utilizes this along with other poignant situations to show how this genetic alteration takes both feeling and freedoms away leaving a level of servitude that is questionable. I recognize what he is doing, but I’m not sure I find the gender role stereotyping or situations excusable even though he is using them to make a point. If it had been executed better I wonder if I might feel differently.
I applaud the concept and truly enjoyed the first half of the book. The second half is not executed as well and leaves Lukyanenko’s impact to fall a bit short. I would still recommend this for the world building, and interesting concept. I would recommend this for fans of space opera. For those who love the Night Watch series this is not fantasy and may not satisfy.
I received this from NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media in return for an honest review.