In a distant future humans expand to planets beyond Earth as they struggle for survival in a galaxy full of conflicting alien species. One distant terraformed planet brings humans into contact with an even larger conflict between two powerful alien species. Humans fight for survival and in loosing effort – in a last desperate action, someone (human or alien) activates a weapon that destroys the wormhole providing access to the planetary system. The consequences are huge – essentially all technology made useless. Humans and aliens alike are stranded and turn toward long lost basic survival skills in a world without technology.
Fast forward several hundred years to equatorial Nanagada – John DeBrun leads a peaceful life in a costal town near the Wicked High Mountains that divide Nanagada from Azteca – a land of brutal, invasion-minded people at the yoke of their vicious alien gods. DeBrun has a mysterious past – he washed up on shore 20+ years earlier with no memories. Since arriving he has lead a life of adventure to distant Capital City and the frozen north before settling down to a family life. War comes with a surprise invasion of the Azteca that threatens to destroy all of Nanagada with John’s memories and mysterious and powerful Pepper holding the key to survival.
Crystal Rain is Tobias Buckell’s debut and a great adventure novel. We see the struggle of a budding civilization in a post-apocalyptic world, alien domination, human sacrifice, blimps and sails, and battle all wrapped up in a solid science fiction framework. As a fun adventure, Crystal Rain succeeds well – immediately sucking me into the story and becoming a ‘page-turner’ of a novel, however, it provides much more than just adventure. In one such aspect, Nanagada was originally settled by people from the Caribbean region of Earth and Buckell’s Caribbean roots shine in the multicultural world that emerges. The distinct voice creates a depth to the setting not often achieved with so few words.
The most interesting part of Crystal Rain for me is only hinted at through the majority of the novel – the ultimate decision made hundreds of years ago to end the war, resulting in the destruction of civilization and the death of countless people. Who could make such a decision, how, and what would be the consequences to that individual of such a necessary evil? Could history repeat itself? Ultimately, this is an underlying theme, rearing its ugly head in various forms.
Crystal Rain was unfortunately and unjustifiably too often overlooked when released last year as it was eclipsed by such releases as The Lies of Locke Lamora and His Majesty’s Dragon and the popularity of authors like John Scalzi. The story stands alone, yet introduces us to continuing saga that is followed up by Ragamuffin (released in June 2007) and future novels. This is science fiction and the beginning of a space opera, but the style and feel of Crystal Rain will satisfy fantasy and sci-fi fans alike. Do yourself a favor – read Crystal Rain – it was one of the best and most overlooked releases of 2006. 8/10