Friday, October 5, 2012

"Flies from the Amber" by Wil McCarthy

(cover image from

With Flies from the Amber (1995), I think I've read all of Wil McCarthy's novels (and reviewed most of them). And I've liked them all. I've been very impressed with McCarthy's work.

But this book is a little different from the rest. For one thing, it starts rather slowly. There are multiple characters, and I kept wondering which was going to be the main character.

In fact, there isn't a main character. Some characters have a bigger role in the story than others, but there isn't anyone who can be considered the main character. And at first, at least, none of them seemed particularly appealing.

My biggest problem wasn't, I think, that they weren't especially admirable, but that they all seemed to be unhappy. For my tastes, that's not a good way to start a book. And I can't say that I really liked any of them.

Some of these characters live in a mining colony around a distant star. Others have arrived on a starship from Earth, a journey of many years to investigate strange gems found by the colonists. (Human beings are apparently very long-lived. In fact - reminiscent of his Queendom of Sol series - "children" in their 30s and 40s rebel against their circumstances, as no one less than a hundred years old seems to be taken seriously.)

But then, highly-advanced aliens emerge from a nearby black hole, continuing a war so ancient that the galaxy has changed around them. At that point, the story gets very good, indeed.

These aliens have been stuck like flies in amber at the edge of the black hole, where time has moved very, very slowly for them. When they emerge, they're still just as angry and just as determined to destroy the enemy as when they started, despite the fact that the years have almost certainly made their dispute meaningless.

I really can't say anything more about the plot here, not without spoilers. So I guess I'll keep this short (unusual for me, huh?). I will say that the title refers to more than the aliens. It's thought-provoking.

I ended up enjoying this book. And that makes it unanimous - I've enjoyed all of Wil McCarthy's science fiction novels. I've just been hugely impressed with this author (and so I'm extremely disappointed that he hasn't published a new novel since 2005).

But Flies from the Amber isn't typical of his books, so I don't think I'd start here. As I say, it begins rather slowly, and the characters aren't particularly appealing. It works - and, ultimately, very well - but it's a different style, and it took awhile before the book grabbed me.

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