A Tunnel in the Sky

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The Blue, Beautiful World
by Karen Lord

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted August 19, 2023

I received an advance digital copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. It will be published August 29, and you can pre-order from Bookshop or Amazon. A purchase through our links may earn us a commission.

Please refer back to my reviews of The Best of All Possible Worlds and The Galaxy Game for insight into some of the characters and situations. I will rehash a bit about them, and add some details I left out of those reviews. The author calls the three books the "Cygnus Beta" novels, but I chose not to combine them on one page with that in the URL, mainly because the first book is the only one that takes place primarily on that planet. The second book starts there, but by the end the protagonist had visited a total of six, even though some of the visits were very brief. It should be easy for most readers to correctly assume the third book takes place on Earth, but there are a few side trips back to Cygnus Beta and a couple of others. Not included with the first two books is a listing at the end of the third, which I assume will be in the final print and digital copies: "The People and Places of the Cygnus Beta Series."

The first two books used the planet names familiar to people in those systems, but now that the action has moved to Earth they are referred to by our astronomical designations. Cygnus Beta is in a triple star system, orbiting 16 Cygni B; Punartam, where Rafi flees early in the second book, orbits Pollux, the brightest star in the constellation Gemini; Sadira, which we learned in the first book's prologue had been destroyed, is in the Epsilon Eridani system; their adversary, Ain, is in Epsilon Tauri; New Sadira, terraformed for Sadirian refugees, is Tolimán/Alpha Centauri B; Ntshune is at Fomalhaut/Alpha Piscis; Zhinu in Vega/Alpha Lyrae. I'll stop there, but just point out the term "galaxy" used frequently is an exaggeration. The farthest system from Earth is only about 145 light years away, equivalent to just a couple of city blocks in the realm of the Milky Way. Travel to and from the different systems is accomplished in various ways: mindships, which can only hold a pilot and a few other people at a time; near light speed trade ships, which carry more people but not much real freight, since trade is in ideas and patents, not physical merchandise; and the third method, which few people ever knew about, and those who did thought no longer existed, was the "transits." The transits were what the Wallrunning game was all about, a variation on the military training exercises and actual transportation through space, which was almost instantaneous.

If I ever re-read these I may change my mind, but the first book is my favorite, mainly because of the ideas presented, and my appreciation for the two main characters, Grace Delarua and the Sadirian Councilor Dllenahkh. Rafi Abowen Adafydd, later known as Rafi Delarua after his father was arrested for psychic coercion, was Grace's nephew. He went through another name change when he entered a kin contract with one of the Academe groups on Punartam, Rafihaneki. At the beginning of this book he is known as Owen, which is part of his original middle name, but also apparently a close approximation of how his father, Ioan, pronounced his name. He chose Owen as a reminder and a warning that he must not let his psychic powers be used in the malicious manner his father employed. About five years has transpired since the end of the second book, during which time Rafi had become the Patron of the Haneki Academe. Now as Owen on Earth, he is a popular entertainer, but his reasons for being there and the endgame is vague for a while. We know several of his entourage even if they are also using different names, but I guessed wrong a couple of times as to their identity, and a few are new to the story. He has also recruited several from Earth as assistants, some kept in the dark for a while, others aware he is from elsewhere. As with the second book, there is a lot of confusion, and a few plot elements left unresolved. Why did Owen purchase a football team? That's football as most of the world knows it, what Americans call soccer. At first I thought he might want to attempt re-training the players to be Wallrunners, but if that was the case it was done off-stage as it were.

We meet several young Earthers, recruited as members of a Global Government program, tasked with figuring out how to fashion a true Global group, which will be necessary to face any possible alien threat. Unknown to many of the other planetary systems was an active transit to Earth, employed by the cartels from Zhinu for centuries to influence and guide Earth for their own nefarious purposes. Owen and his allies hope to combat them. Something else I did not mention previously is a prevalent myth on Cygnus Beta. Many there are Terran in origin, supposedly rescued from Earth at different crisis points of our history. The rescuers are known as the Caretakers. Sounds a bit like wish-fulfillment to me, akin to the various "Ancient Alien" myths. Yet that makes some sense in the context of these later events taking place in our 22nd Century, when Earth had yet to manage extra-solar exploration. There was knowledge on Cygnus Beta of Earth culture handed down through generations, including books, plays, and operas. Where did that come from if not from people who had ancestors who grew up on Earth? Also, by that time in Earth's history, it is puzzling why some of those recruited by Owen had such a difficult time accepting the truth of alien civilizations when that information was finally revealed. Owen himself, in yet another guise and under another name, was one of the teachers for the fledgling galactic diplomats. Some abandoned the project out of fear, some decided they were more needed in their own area on Earth, but a few learn the full truth and become Wallrunners…I mean, transit passengers. Not everything is resolved, and I have no idea if Lord intends to write more about these characters and scenarios. The plight of the Sadiri on New Sadira is up in the air, and Dllenahkh is no longer Governor of Sadira-on-Cygnus. Owen/Rafi has retired from the spotlight as well, no longer on Earth, nor closely involved in the Haneki Academe. He wanted to return to Cygnus Beta and meditate within the compound of Sadira-on-Cygnus, even though his aunt and uncle are no longer there.

Not every thread of plot has to be resolved, not every character has to be accounted for by story's end. Sometimes I'm content to think about the future of these characters and their worlds, but other times I long for more exposition for complete understanding. For me, it is as difficult to review a book I loved as one I didn't. In both cases I feel inadequate to explain my feelings, in fact not qualified to express an opinion that would matter to anyone else, and yet I continue to want to talk and write about the books I read. I can highly recommend The Best of All Possible Worlds, and feel sure anyone who likes it will be compelled to read the next book in the sequence. Some may enjoy the other books as much if not more. The only way to know is to read them.


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Karen Lord

August 29, 2023

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