A Tunnel in the Sky

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Far from the Light of Heaven
by Tade Thompson

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted November 10, 2021

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A locked room murder mystery set on a spaceship sounded intriguing, and several comments from others led me to believe I would love Tade Thompson's latest novel. There are good things to be sure, but the pace of Far from the Light of Heaven is off. In an interview at Locus, Thompson said he envisioned it like a rock thrown into the air, slower in rising, then much faster on its descent. I'm not sure which point he felt was the apex, but about two-thirds of the way the trajectory is sidetracked by backstory that could have been held to the end, or some of that info could have been dropped as hints earlier. It was too soon to reveal the culprit, even if the mechanics of the crime took more explanation.

Michelle "Shell" Campion is on a fast track to complete her NASA training, continuing a tradition set by her father, a pioneering astronaut. She is presented with a surprising opportunity to go into space early in a commercial ship, the Ragtime, destined for the colony world Bloodroot. Ragtime is also how the AI pilot of the ship wishes to be addressed. Campion's duties won't come into play until they approach Bloodroot, which was settled by Yoruba refugees. Until then she will be in cold sleep along with more than a thousand potential colonists and other crew, while Ragtime and its many bots handle maintenance. The transit is made via a series of Einstein-Rosen Bridges, the last of which is controlled by the space station Lagos. After ten years Campion wakes to discover more than thirty passengers have been killed and dismembered by rogue bots, the AI is out of commission, and the back-up AI is uncooperative. Enter Fin (a human) and Salvo (an Artificial), sent from Bloodroot to aid in the investigation.

It was mentioned early that AI pilots were infallibe, so of course the first suspicion was that was wrong and the AI would be the murderer. But which one? The main AI was very advanced, interacting with Shell and others in a human-like manner, but the back-up is not, with more mechanical and by-the-book responses. Or no response if the question wasn't worded correctly or by the right person. Were both of them compromised, and if so, by what or whom? And what's with the wolf Shell saw shortly after awakening, but which the ship's cameras do not confirm? Both Fin and Salvo suspect Shell is the murderer. They are later joined by Lawrence Biz, governor of Lagos and a family friend of Shell's, and his "daughter" Joké. Her story threatened to send the plot into fantasy, but I won't elaborate.

Shell did her best, and it was still not good enough. She went down with the ship, and even though she survived, many of the passengers did not, so she considered herself a failure. Thompson may have thought he did his best, and several other reviewers think so too, just not me. Lots of interesting parts, but they didn't jell to my satisfaction. I don't know if this is a stand-alone, or if we can expect it to be another series. If that happens, I hope the next one concentrates on Beko. Even though Lawrence Biz was Lagos' governor, Beko did most of the work, and a decision she made toward the end deserves further illumination. Just as I found it hard to take this book seriously, I don't expect anyone to take me seriously as a reviewer. I write for myself first, other readers second, with other bloggers a distant third. Not the author, and I hope Tade never sees this. I loved the Wormwood trilogy, and liked Molly Southbourne, and look forward to the third in that series next year. It's never fun not enjoying a book I expected to like, but it happens from time to time. YMMV.


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Tade Thompson

October 26, 2021

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