Gary Gibson is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, let alone favourite science fiction authors. He has the considerable, not-to-be-underestimated talent of bringing lightness and accessibility to hard science fiction. While I will always enjoy a good SF bookbrick, there is something to be said for a SF novel that you can hold in one hand without it having lost any of the wonder and vision and clever depth of novels often twice the size. Marauder is a novel that I have been waiting months for, the pressure of the wait intensified greatly by reading The Thousand Emperors this summer. The joy of finally having Marauder in my hands to read was heightened by the gorgeous glow of the cover. It’s a goodlooking book and the insides are just as appetising.
Marauder is set within the universe of the Shoal Trilogy and yet it is also a standalone novel. Earlier this year I read the first of the trilogy, Stealing Light, because I wanted to be well-acquainted with the universe, its beings, planets and terms, before reading Marauder. There is mention of the people and events of Stealing Light in Marauder, as well as reference to the other two novels in the trilogy, but you could quite happily read Marauder without any knowledge at all of the earlier books. Mind you, I’ll be back to finish the trilogy.
One of the strengths of Gary Gibson’s writing is his characters – a mix of strength and vulnerability, and they’re satisfyingly complex. The principal characters are often on their own journey to self-knowledge and so it’s not surprising that they surprise us just as much as they astonish themselves. In Marauder we have two fascinating and contrasting female figures – Megan, an experienced, assured machine head, who knows what she wants, what she has to do, and nothing can stand in her way; and Gabrielle, young, relatively innocent and used and ready to fight back. Manipulating them both, to varying degrees of success, is an array of men on both sides of a bitter struggle to keep their planet dominant. FTL (faster than light) technology is what everyone wants, no matter its risks, and to keep it or win it is the biggest prize of all in this universe. But far away, hiding within a distant star system, is the Wanderer or Marauder. Our characters are drawn to it. But what does it want?
The very human stories of Megan and Gabrielle, as well as Bash (Megan’s friend), contrast fiercely and poignantly with the ambitions of those who would use them. Life is cheap and squandered while to Gabrielle in particular it is sacred. What Bash endures for much of the novel is heartrending and shows Megan and Gabrielle in a light that is at odds with the inhumanity that they must fight against. It’s very difficult not to feel involved with these wonderful characters. The baddies, though, are always interesting, not least because they can never be as powerful as they would like to be.
Marauder is full of wonders – the ships and worlds, the mix of human and artificial intelligence, the unknowable monster that is the Marauder and the wider context of the FTL drives and the battle for their control that has scarred the galaxy for millennia. History here is being made. The novel is also full of twists and turns, providing a welcome continuation of the original Shoal trilogy while striking free into new territory.
Marauder is great science fiction but it is also an absorbing thriller, intricately plotted and wonderfully imagined. For me, this is the perfect mix and yet again I find myself hanging on to every word Gary Gibson writes.