Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Review of Kevin J. Anderson - Metal Swarm

Both the Human HANSA and Ildiran Empires are in a state of disarray. Despite being on the winning side in recent galactic-wide wars against the gas-giant dwelling Hydrogues, both have seen their forces severely depleted. Having internal troubles as well has not helped either race.

The human race is on the verge of a civil war with the increasingly paranoid HANSA Chairman Basil Wenceslas refusing to admit that Earth's problems are largely the result of his own actions and his making enemies of humanity's independent offshoots at a time Earth needed allies. The Ildiran leader, Mage-Imperator Jora'h, has his own problems attempting to recover from the damage his mad half-brother did to the thism, the Ildiran's mental links.

Both races need time to recover, but (as expected) that is the last thing they are going to get. The sun-dwelling Faeros are back and intent on ridding the Universe of Ildirans - and humanity seems trapped between the murderous black Klikiss robots and their creators.

Anderson is playing on a galactic stage here; we have seven species (two humanoid, one insectoid and four very alien) and one artificial life form in a struggle across hundreds of solar systems. This kind of grand scale concept does risk the author "going-off-on-one" and writing a novel so vast as to be totally disconnected and unreadable. But he's used a very good technique of tying the action down to a manageable readable level. Each of the one hundred and forty-six fairly short chapters in this book tells its story from one person's point of view, giving a human (or Ildiran) perspective to the events.

Lengthways, this series ("The Saga of the Seven Suns") is quite simply colossal. This sixth volume runs to nearly seven hundred pages in hardcover and some of the previous volumes have been even longer. The obvious worry with series like this is whether the story can sustain the interest of the reader over so many pages. Well for the first five volumes this has been absolutely no problem, this series has contained so of the most compelling space opera I have read in years.

This sixth book though is showing the strain. There is a feeling here of being a bit of a filler, a way of getting from the position at the end of book five to the point when the concluding seventh volume needs to begin.

It's a harsh comment in some ways. There is a lot of good action in these pages; the set up at the end of the book is brilliant, leaving a wonderful cliff-hanger at the end - one will leave you desperate for the release of the final volume. But I believe that, although "The Sags of the Seven Suns" is good as a seven-book series, it could have been truly great over five. I would still gladly recommend the series to fans of space opera despite this observation; Anderson has re-awakened a liking in me for this sub-genre that has been long dormant.

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