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Sci-Fi Review: ‘Song of Scarabaeus’ by Sara Creasy

Synopsis

Edie a young but very gifted cypherteck is kidnapped by a group of rovers- pirates from the space. As she can plug in and manipulate the biological tools that the Crib uses to terraform new worlds they want her skills to help them salvage material from the planet she called Scarabaeus – and sell those to less fortunate worlds of the Fringe for a lot of cash. What they don’t know is that the planet is the very sight of Edie’s worst failure and deepest secret. A world she wanted desperately to preserve from terraforming.

Finn, a former freedom-fighter turned slave (lag), is assigned as her bodyguard; as a cypherteck Eddie can be assassinated by eco-rads who are hunting mercilessly people like her, and she is on a ship where no one can be trusted. They are tied by a mental leash that will kill him if she dies. If she doesn’t cooperate, the pirates will kill them both. Edie is determines to cut this leash and save them but soon enough she finds it is almost impossible, not if she wants Finn to survive. She must play along, revisit Scarabeus and find a mysterious infojack who had created that leash and is her only hope to have it removed. Will she manage to do it on time, though?

What I liked:

I have to admit Song of Scarabaeus started off slowly. It was sometimes difficult to wade through all sorts of technological terms to keep track of the world building. Words like cypherteck, datastream, wet-teck interface, and biocyph retroviral automated terraformer (or BRATs for short) were thrown at me, making me wonder why I had picked up this book and whether it was switched with a tech nerd vocabulary. Then I adjusted and my reading was progressing more smoothly. Mind you it didn’t feel like infodumping but there was a LOT to know.

The concept is intriguing as well – a human who can change planets with a mere thought, mentally chained to a killer who must protect her or die. Brilliant.Finn and Edie, the heroine, are tied together by a “leash” that will cause Finn’s head to explode if he gets too far from Edie. It was an amazing plot device, making all those silly insta-love or insta-lust twists unnecessary. Still don’t let yourself be swayed by the blurb or the cover art, describing this one as a sci-fi romance of a kind ( this time it is a compliment). Let me assure you that the romance was practically non-existent. The characters did share a strong bond, they cared for each other, and they occasionally had some real moments of heat, but the closest thing to a romantic interlude in the first 150 pages quickly got shut down by the heroine.

Also Scarabaeus the planet and its creepy inhabitants were excellently portrayed. It would be quite a challenge for any ambitious sci-fi movies director but the results could be astounding.

Finally I found Ms. Creasy’s storytelling ability really gripping – I was able to finish the novel in two evenings despite the initial problems.

What I didn’t like:

The structure of the novel is somewhat episodic – to the point that it seems like reading a script for an television series. No, it is not a compliment in my view. Kidnapping – one episode. Coming to on the ship – another episode. Lag escape – another episode. And so on. Not to mention those blasts from the past that happen in Edie’s dreams or rather nightmares. Because we only got one POV, I felt we spent a lot of time in the heroine’s head, as she navigates what’s happening to her and what’s going to happen. I felt like the relationships she formed with other characters, not only with Finn, were only superficially developed if developed at all.

Apart from that the world building which at first promised me exotic planets and aliens didn’t deliver, nor really. You see, two thirds of the book takes place on the ship called Hoi Polloi .The problem is that it’s a very plain ship, in full accordance with its name (meaning ‘ordinary, simple people, the commoners’ in Greek). It has no odd aspects, it’s never bombarded by asteroids, it never loses propulsion. It’s just a ship. The rover crew of the ship had potential, but just like the main characters, neither Haller nor the captain ever mature into the full fledged villains.

Finally one more carping: Song of Scarabaeus? Really? In my humble opinion that’s a terrible title! When I heard about the book for the first time I was sure it would be actually about Egypt!

Final verdict:

This book will totally do it for you if you like SF with biotech elements and evolutionary biology. I liked it despite its flaws – it’s unique, it’s SF, it has a female protagonist. We don’t get many of those.

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