Locus: This book is in conversation with a number of others, first of all with Bear’s own—this future is tied to her Jacob’s Ladder trilogy (Dust, Chill, and Grail) via a mention of that “famous ship from history.” There are also strong echoes of C.J. Cherryh and Iain M. Banks—especially the latter, since the Synarche is clearly a cousin of the Culture: an ancient, galaxy-spanning, multi-species polity dedicated to what we might call rational and utopian values (also prone to snarky ship names, e.g., the Synarche Justice Vessel I’ll Explain It To You Slowly). That, in turn, connects with Haimey’s debates with Farweather about freedom and authenticity, which echo Greg Egan’s frequent examinations of ways of engineering the self (e.g., “Chaff” or “Mister Volition”).
Not that it’s all applied philosophy and psychology. The chases, escapes, and discoveries of ancient alien artifacts and haring across half the galaxy and back again make for as gaudy an adventure as one could want, as does the cast of AIs, sociopathic libertarian pirates, snoozy cats, and particularly a charming giant predatory alien-insectoid cop. And this is just Volume One. I quake to imagine what the encore will be like.