Toccata System:

By Kate Sheeran Swed

Rating: 4 stars

Part of a SFWA StoryBundle, I really bought the whole thing for this, and it was totally worth it. Starting with a space station AI that raises a daughter to be an assassin to kill a man who spurned her, it picks that up and runs with it.

Interstellar travel is mentioned in the series, but this story is all set in the Toccata star system, in the planets, moons and space stations that inhabit that system. Each of the three novellas that comprise this series take different PoV characters, the first being Astra and the AI SATIS who raises her. SATIS sends Astra to kill Conor, the son of the man who turned her programming, years before, but Astra discovers that Conor, a genius in his own right, has a device that can jam AIs – Astra could be free of her tyrannical ‘mother’.

The second and third books see the fallout of Astra’s attempts, but focus on different PoV characters. Something I wasn’t expecting from a space opera was a Phantom of the Opera story. The second novella in the series is a clear homage to that, with opera divas with masks (well, veils), secret passages behind mirrors and setpieces involving chandeliers. This one also deals with cyborgs and the prejudice they face. It’s never clear just why this prejudice evolved, and I guess there’s not much space to get into that in a short-ish story like this one, but it would have been interesting. Still, humans have never found it difficult to divide people into Us and Them.

I’ve had a lot of fun in the Toccata system. The bonus short story also in this omnibus edition deals with Fay and how she ends up with SATIS, deepening her character considerably. I’ve signed up to the author’s mailing list to get another short story in the same universe and while I was on her website, I found details about Swed’s other work. Both her superhero series and new space opera sound like something worth reading.

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