Stars and Bones (Continuance #1)

By Gareth L. Powell

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve been burned by Powell’s work before, but this is a new series in a new universe and the premise sounded really interesting. About seventy-five years ago, the human race was evicted from the Earth by a member of a godlike, benevolent alien race, just as we were about to annihilate each other in a nuclear war. The chance opening of a small, experimental wormhole just as the missiles started to fly convinced this “Angel of the Benevolence” that we were worth saving, rather than letting the planet wipe us out and start again. So it built us a fleet of a thousand giant arks and every single human on the planet was transplanted on to them, along with AIs to run them and matter printers to cater to physical want, warned to travel the stars and never to try to settle another planet. Now Eryn King of the scoutship Furious Ocelot has pulled a number of strings to be assigned to a rescue ship after her sister disappeared, but what they find there follows them back and threatens the entire fleet.

There’s a lot of world-building going on here, to construct the world of the Continuance. A universe where sentience does develop, but is mind-bogglingly rare, and worth shattering moons to preserve. Where billions of people live, work, and die on ships really too big to imagine. We could spend a whole series just exploring the arks and their inhabitants, seeing what sort of societies that they’ve made. How would religion, for example, change in these circumstances? We find out that most of the fleet runs on “godless space communism” but that there is a rump of people who have congregated on a minority of ships that insist on maintaining the old order, and have recreated a form of capitalism.

But there’s a plot to be had, so I reluctantly tear myself away from the world-building to the threat facing the Continuance. This goes through several stages, with a number of different genres represented. There’s an Alien-like “it’s in the ducts” stage; body horror; disaster porn; right up to unstoppable galaxy-threatening menace (not to mention deus ex machina). The one thing that I did sort of struggle with was the scale of destruction here. It’s really hard to get your head around arks that hold over a hundred million people in relative comfort, so when a disaster threatens whole ships, it doesn’t have the impact that it should. There was also an issue where people would be introduced to the story, even get PoV chapters, and then be bumped off before we got much feel for them, leaving Eryn the only character who get any real depth.

But the plot really does fly by, throwing so many ideas at you that it doesn’t matter that some of the characterisation is sometimes thin and that not all the ideas stick. From giant arks with networks of wormholes as public transit; to navigators dream-linked to their AI-governed ships; to Dyson spheres; to “a world-swallowing hurricane with the soul of a librarian and the casual supremacy of a god” (such a good line!). Anyone who enjoys strongly plot-driven SF with lots of big ideas will have a great time.

Book details

ISBN: 9781789094282
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2022

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