A Tunnel in the Sky

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The Investigations of Mossa and Pleiti
by Malka Older

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted February 21, 2023
Edits and Addendum on February 26, 2024

1. The Mimicking of Known Successes / 2. The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles

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This novella by Malka Older will be published in two weeks (March 7, 2023) 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. [EDIT: It has now, so I changed the URL for the page.] 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 the next adventure..

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Posted February 26, 2024
Mossa and Pleiti's relationship has continued, but it has been hampered by the restraints of both of their jobs. Pleiti's research continues, and she tutors others, while Mossa's investigations keep her from visiting Pleiti as often as she would like. Enough so that Pleiti worries their relationship will head in the same direction as before. That changes when Mossa's work again revolves around missing persons at Pleiti's university. Her initial case applied to just one person, but closer examination of school records reveals at least nineteen missing over the past year. Some may have struck off on their own for another school, another job, or just a holiday, without revealing their plans to anyone. There don't seem to be connections between the missing. Some were students, or teachers, but from different departments, others were staff employees. The only connection Mossa has found is that her initial focus reveals a possible girlfriend also missing.

Remember this has been described as Holmesian, but there are differences. In Doyle's stories Dr. Watson wrote of Sherlock's investigations, rarely being part of the mystery himself, except when Holmes would present his conjectures and prompt Watson to connect the dots. Pleiti tells us of her experiences, and her own conjectures and theories, mainly because Mossa goes off on her own several times, and keeps her ideas to herself. Even when they are together, Mossa waits a long time before revealing information. In this sense, Pleiti is the main investigator, taking the initiative to pursue suspicions, and most always heading in the right direction to discover the truth. Mossa only occasionally compliments Pleiti on the work, but she should be aware of how fragile Pleiti's feelings are about her. Pleiti wonders if she is just being used as a convenient in at the university. She needs to know if Mossa is serious about them, or if Mossa is going to remain aloof and distant. I am happy to say that does not seem to be the case by the end of this story. I hope there will be more. Please let there be more to their story.

If I interpreted the title correctly, the missing persons cases came about because of the difficulty of advancing within the university and the various research disciplines. Some felt constricted by that, seeing their research underfunded, or abandoned. Such obstacles were not just unnecessary, they were contrary to the stated goals of the research. Not hard to see how a few could not put up with those obstacles for long. Embezzlement of funds, and theft of equipment (even if the thieves were the ones who invented the equipment) would be noticed eventually. If only one of the perpetrators had not stooped to murder. Mossa could overlook some things, in fact it appears she will not reveal the whereabouts of the missing people. But murder? That she will not abide, and neither will Pleiti. This title was announced even before the first was published, but I don't think a third has been revealed yet. I am anxious to read about more of their adventures. Mossa and Pleiti make a good team, but only time will tell how good a couple they can be. Highly recommended.


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Malka Older

Successes: 3/7/23
Obstacles: 2/13/24

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