Sunday, November 14, 2021

Review of Tales of the Sun Eater Vol. 1 by Christopher Ruocchio

I read the majority of Christopher Ruocchio's debut novel Empire of Silence with an eyebrow raised in skepticism. It felt retro. It felt tried-and-true. It felt like it was kicking a dead horse rather than a live one. But by the time I'd finished the +/-700 pages, I was surprised to find I'd somehow been won over. Beach read nothing more, I nevertheless was interested in checking out the second Sun Eater volume when it was published. The sum was more than the parts. So what does that world's first collection (i.e. breaking the world into smaller pieces), Tales of the Sun Eater (2021), have to offer?

Familiar territory, Hadrian Marlowe kicks off the collection in “Demons of Arae”. Commanding an army, he is tasked with suppressing a pirate insurrection on an alien planet. The real enemy, however, has yet to show its “demon” head. First-person Hadrian, the story is very comfortable, if not a little over the top. It does, however, complement certain scenes in Demon in White.

There are times that science fiction is not the right vehicle for humanism. Thus while the story “Victim of Changes” captures the instinct of motherhood at an extreme, emotional level, it remains unrelatable at the human level. A mixed story, it features the Chantry enacting some Inquisition-level punisment upon a mother who has significantly modified her body. The third story is post-colonialism mixed with sci-fi, space marine action. “Not Made for Us” partially captures a certain 'blue collar'” vernacular in the marines as they try to survive an attack on the Cielcin gone wrong. The story at least sticks the action-adventure landing.

There are a few stories in the collection vying for the title of Most Classic SF Story of All-time, and “The Night Captain” just might be the winner. Telling of a moment when Marlowe's cryo ship is attacked by space pirates, even the old magazine covers fit this one. A quick story, “The Duelist” is more or less a scene, with a lightsaber—ahem, I mean a high-matter sword. That’s it. Oh, and the fight is over love and matronly honor. (Yes, another story vying for most classic of all.)

“The Parliament of Owls” is yet another classic-classic tale. It tells of Kalas the bounty hunter and his quest to keep gene modifiers and thieves at bay on a frontier planet. It’s what comes from off-planet, however, that proves truly troublesome. The plot is nicely unpredictable. And closing the collection is “Pits of Emesh”. Previously unpublished, it's a story for readers who love the monster battle scenes in Star Wars. Ruocchio offers a beastie, plus a mystery in the times Marlowe was a gladiator.

As stated, the Sun Eater novels are a sum of their parts. The vast scope and epic tale draw readers in. Taken individually, the parts are largely vanilla science fantasy, however, and this collection is just some of those disconnected parts. For long-time sf readers, each story will likely feel been there, done that. But for fan of the universe, this will be a mini-buffet—enjoy! For readers with less time in sf, there is at least a chance for enjoyment. Ruocchio does coax life and color from the stories in very consistent fashion. Fun action-adventure in space, yes. Thus, my recommendation is for people looking for more in the Sun Eater universe—more background, more Marlowe, more, more, more. Ruocchio delivers on that front. Otherwise, there is little unique here.

The following are the seven stories contained in Tales of the Sun Eater: Vol. 1:

Demons of Arae

Victim of Changes

Not Made for Use

The Night Captain

The Duelist

The Parliament of Owls

Pits of Emesh

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