Tobias S. Buckell burst onto the science fiction scene in early 2006 with his first full-length novel, Crystal Rain. His debut introduced readers to a future in which humans have traveled throughout the galaxy using wormholes, colonizing planets and confronting alien species. It was also the first view of Buckellís technologically modified humans John and Pepper. This excellent entry in the sci-fi genre was followed by Ragamuffin, which continued the story of John and Pepperís fight against alien manipulation of humanity. In Tobias S. Buckellís newest novel, Sly Mongoose, the reader catches up with Pepper fifty years after the events of Ragamuffin.
The end of Ragamuffin sees humans split into two factions, the Raga and the League. The Leagueís goal is to unify all of humanity in a fight against any alien influence. They have unsuccessfully attempted to integrate the Raga for the past fifty years. In Sly Mongoose, the reader is taken to the Venus-like planet of Chilo. With crushing atmospheric pressure making the surface uninhabitable, humans occupy floating cities in sulfuric acid clouds thousands of feet above. Chilo lies in the DMZ between the League and the Raga, and it has just become a battleground. When catastrophe strikes the ship Sheik Professional, Pepper bails out crashing into a domed city of Chilo. Once on Chilo, he and Timas, a boy who regularly travels to the planetís surface for mining operations, must convince the people that their world is in danger. The threat which destroyed the Sheik is coming, and it can only be described asÖ space zombies!
One of the things that made Crystal Rain so great was the incredibly deadly Pepper. A human killing machine, Pepper had no conscience; his only concern was wiping out the alien menace and escaping the planet that held him captive. However, he wasnít the main character - he had more of a supporting role. In small doses, he was perfect. He didnít have too much dialogue or carry the story. Pepper just stepped in when some butt-kicking was in order. In Ragamuffin he had a bit larger role but wasnít overwhelming. However, in Sly Mongoose he becomes a main character along with Timas. Unfortunately, this is the biggest weakness of the book.
Pepper isnít a very sympathetic character. Itís difficult to relate with much that he does or says. He looks at the big picture, in which it can be necessary to make some large sacrifices that ordinary humans would not be willing to make. Had he been paired with a more likable character than Timas, the problem would be lessened, but Timas just doesnít quite connect with the reader. In addition, particularly in the case of Pepper, the dialogue is a sometimes awkward. This may just be a consequence of his personality, but it is distracting.
Despite these flaws, Sly Mongoose is certainly an entertaining read. Pepper is still a dominating, nearly indestructible force on the side of the good guys. The enemy is a force which would scare anyone - weíre talking space zombies, and they become more intelligent the bigger the horde becomes. The book also has the creative technology and settings that have come to be expected in science fiction in general and in Buckell books specifically. Overall, Sly Mongoose is not as impressive as the previous two novels, but it is recommended to science fiction and Tobias S. Buckell fans alike. Did I mention that it has space zombies?