A Tunnel in the Sky

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The Galaxy Game
by Karen Lord

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted August 13, 2023

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I liked this, but not as much as The Best of All Possible Worlds. One thing that limited my appreciation was not understanding the game at the heart of the story, or its importance to the story, although its true nature became apparent toward the end. One of the reasons I decided not to combine this review with the previous book, is even though the author calls them the "Cygnus Beta" novels, most of the action departs from Cygnus Beta about a fourth of the way in, moving to the planet Punartam, later to several other planets, even a brief trip to Earth. Grace Delarua and Dllenahkh appear in the first part of this book, then briefly in the third section, but the main character is Grace's nephew Rafi, whom we met in TBOAPW when Grace visited her sister. Rafi's father had been arrested and subjected to therapy for his psychic abuse of his family and others. Rafi ends up at the Lyceum, a school for psychically gifted students, in order to train to control his powers, rather than control others. He also becomes interested in the popular "sport" of Wallrunning.

Something else I may have misunderstood is when his school advisor "caps" him. I visualized him wearing some device that restricted his psychic ability, or maybe just monitored his abilities, but it also caused him to have traumatic nightmares, some of which related to his father. I am not confident my visualization of that situation was correct. Rafi's two closest friends at the school were a Sadiri girl, Serendipity, and Ntenman, son of a wealthy Ntshune trader. As with several other names, I think the first "N" is silent, since Rafi calls him Tinman. Even though Ntenman is not a Wallrunner himself, at least at Lyceum, he seems to know the game, and tries to coach Rafi. Again, the game is confusing so I won't try to describe it, but it is a popular pastime, much like football on our world. That includes groups and individuals who bet on the games, or maybe just on individual players. Rafi is interested in learning the game, but not at Lyceum. All three friends escape the school late on a Friday, Rafi going to Tlaxe City to see his aunt Grace, and it is not until Monday their disappearance is discovered. I won't go into details about the how and why, but Ntenman is able to aid Rafi in leaving Cygnus Beta for Punartam. Several people are aware of where Rafi is, but not Lyceum or the Central Government of Cygnus Beta, which had been monitoring him due to his father's crimes. One that helps Rafi is a former associate of Grace Delarua.

The political situation on Cygnus Beta and other planets related to the Sadiri is growing more complicated. I wish more time had been devoted to that instead of Rafi's exploits on Punartam. The homestead Dllenahkh had established becomes known as Sadira-on-Cygnus, but New Sadira had also been established on another terraformed planet, Sadira still a radioactive wasteland. New Sadira has a consulate on Cygnus Beta, but without much power to influence Dllenahkh, who is later elected Governor of Sadira-on-Cygnus. I've already started the third book in the sequence, which begins in a completely different fashion than I expected. Hopefully it will come back around to the crucial issues of Sadira versus the other planets. Something I don't recall being mentioned in the first book, the Great Galactic War is something Rafi had previously been unaware of. Not sure how far in the past it was, but much longer than the recent destruction of Sadira. That is where Wallrunning comes in. Not just a game, but originally a military training procedure to prepare troops for "transit" between worlds, something that had been prohibited after the war. If I read correctly, it wasn't that the transits had been eliminated, but rather the knowledge of them had been suppressed. Different planetary governments, as well as commercial enterprises, have shipping fleets, which can dock at an orbiting station, but shuttles to the planets have to be controlled by those planets. Now with multiple conflicts brewing, the transits need to be re-established.

I hate to sound stupid, but there are so many confusing factors. Punartam seems to be controlled by various Academes, which in spite of the usual meaning of that word are not schools as we know them. Rather they are devoted to commercial enterprises, but not to be confused with the commercial cartels, most of which are from Zhinuvia, but not necessarily controlled by any of that planet's governments. Why did the cartels attack the Academes, if in fact it was the cartels? What possible benefit could accrue from the disruption of trade? Rafi and Ntenman return to Cygnus Beta, but Serendipity never left. She instead when to Grand Bay, an enclave established for mindship pilots. She is not a pilot herself, but does become familiar with that type of travel, which is not just between worlds but also to and from different points on Cygnus Beta. She accompanies Rafi on a couple of mindship trips, but he also takes several transits, to Ntshune, Zhinuvia, even Sadira, where restoration work has begun within a biodome.

I'm not sure if they are included in the print reissue, but the ebook has two short stories at the end, plus a preview of the next book, The Blue, Beautiful World. One of the stories contains a scene that was in the first book, with content that was either edited out, or added later. I hesitate to mention what it is about, due to it also being confusing, but the adventures of Naraldi, a Sadirian mindship pilot, and later the Consul for New Sadira on Cygnus Beta, involved multiple incidents of time travel, some of which occur on alternate timelines. The Naraldi at the end of the first book, and as we see him in this one, is younger than when he first appeared. What I have said, and I've only touched on the major topics, might dissuade some from reading this. I need to read it again myself, but who knows when that might happen. As I mentioned above, the third book begins in an unexpected fashion, and I have no idea how it will resolve, if in fact it resolves all the multiple puzzling factors that have been presented. I'll know if a few days.


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Karen Lord

January 6, 2015

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