A Tunnel in the Sky

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The Mimicking of Known Successes
by Malka Older

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted February 21, 2023

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This novella by Malka Older will be published in two weeks, March 7, but I received a digital review copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. There has already been a sequel announced for next year, but a collective name for the series has not yet been established. I'm using this story's title in the URL for the page, but might change it later. Mossa and Pleiti are two women living on different platforms constructed on rings circling Giant. It's actually Jupiter, at least according to Tor's synopsis, but I don't think it was ever stated as such in the story, but the moon Io is mentioned, so Jupiter it is. I highly recommend the book, but my review will be brief to avoid revealing too much.

One strength of the story is its appeal at different levels. You can revel in the scientific nature of the platforms and rings around Jupiter, along with the experiments being conducted by different scientists. Or, you might be intrigued with the basic mystery, or concentrate on the characters and their interactions, which includes a rekindled romance. Mossa and Pleiti were in a relationship at university, but Pleiti broke that off due to what she felt was Mossa's indifference and self-absorption. They went their separate ways, Pleiti becoming a Scholar researching the ways to reanimate animal and plant cultures and, hopefully, return them to a ravaged Earth to kickstart another evolutionary cycle. Mossa is an Investigator, clearly good at her job, respected and admired by her colleagues. The prologue is in third-person, introducing Mossa as she begins an investigation into a missing person, or it's possible it was a suicide or murder. The rest of the book is in first-person with Pleiti narrating. Mossa comes to her for help and advice since the missing person is a colleague of Pleiti's.

Another part of Tor's description is "a cozy Holmesian murder mystery." Even knowing that going in, I never once thought of Mossa as anything like Sherlock Holmes, nor that Pleiti was her Dr. Watson. Yes, Mossa is a thorough investigator, and a keen observer of people and events, but she doesn't elaborate her theories and deductions in minute detail as Holmes would. Instead, she keeps a lot of that to herself, which reminds Pleiti of how she kept her emotions to herself when they were together. One way it is a bit like Holmes is how the setting is described much like a gas-lamp mystery in fog shrouded London, but in this case the gas and fog is from Giant's atmosphere. The mystery is puzzling and intricate, with a few misdirections, but also some uncannily accurate deductions, including by Pleiti. The revelations might alter the course of her research, maybe accelerating the return to Earth.

The title references one avenue of that research, an attempt to recreate conditions as they were during Earth's early evolutionary history. The prospect of that happening is remote if not impossible, so they should not try to mimic it, but rather alter their approach based on the current condition of the planet. Mossa and Pleiti should also not try to mimic their earlier relationship, but base the new one on their more mature (hopefully) emotional states. I wish them luck, and am very interested in following their journey in their next adventure, The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles.


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Malka Older

March 7, 2023

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