Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"The Fall of Sirius" by Wil McCarthy

(cover image from Amazon.com)

The Fall of Sirius (1996) is the sequel to Wil McCarthy's Aggressor Six, which I loved. But this book is set 2,000 years later, in a different star system, with completely different characters.

It's not at all a clone of the first book, though I enjoyed this one, too. (And I still think you should read Aggressor Six first. Note that I'll try to avoid giving spoilers here.)

"The first thing the monster saw when she opened her eyes was a man leaning over her." That's the first line in the book, and the 'monster' is Malyene Andreivne, the very-human heroine of the story.

She thinks of herself as a monster - or, perhaps, a potential monster - because her father had been a serial killer. She'd always loved him. She'd always been proud to be so much like him. But then, when she was 15 or so, her father was caught, tried, and executed for raping and killing dozens of children.

This is all backstory that comes out as the book continues, and it really has nothing to do with the main plot here. But it made Malye who she was - and now, 2,000 years later, who she is, when she wakes in a completely different world. And who Malye is matters.

2,000 years previously, the Sirius star system had been the first to be attacked by the genocidal 'Waister' fleet. Everyone else was killed, but through sheer determination, Malye succeeded in getting herself and her two children into cryostasis. Through incredible good luck, they and a handful of other people, frozen in a hospital facility, survived the attack and the centuries afterwards.

The first part of this book alternates between chapters from that earlier period in Malye's life and those describing what's happening now, as she's revived by green-haired, gray-skinned humanoids. They turn out to be human beings who've made themselves and their society as much like the alien Waisters as they could (like the Aggressor Six teams of the previous book).

They've recolonized the Sirius system - now called 'Gate' - partly to be as close as possible to the aliens (their stated goal is to eventually act as translators and intermediaries) and partly because they weren't accepted by the vast majority of normal humans, who still live in the Suzerainty, far away.

But now, the Waister fleet is returning. And from everything the Gateans know about them, that makes no sense. It shouldn't be happening.

The Gateans revived Malye and the others in the hope that those earlier people might have some knowledge they lack. But the Sirius system was the first to be destroyed by the Waisters, and they know absolutely nothing about them.

So Malye and her children, along with a handful of other people who've lost everyone they ever knew, have been revived into a completely alien world, among people who aren't really human any more. And it seems likely that they've been saved only to quickly die in a second Waister attack.

Like the first book, this is about aliens. The theme here is similar to that of Aggressor Six, the struggle to understand aliens. But some of these aliens are human in origin. And Malye herself isn't entirely sure of her own humanity.

It's an excellent book, a very quick read, easily holding my attention right from the start. And there are developments I didn't see coming, events that made the whole thing seem real, rather than just a story. It was easy to suspend my disbelief.

I don't want to compare it to Aggressor Six, because that's setting the bar really high. And they're different enough to make comparisons difficult. But I did enjoy it. If you liked the previous book, you'll definitely want to read this one.

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