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Book review

A Star Curiously Singing

by Kerry Nietz

Four stars for this one, I think.

Sandfly is a debugger, brought up from childhood to work on the machines of his masters, in a future Earth run under sharia law. The implant in his brain allows him to work with “the stream” – the free flow of information running in and out of the machines, between debuggers, and stored in vast online databases. He has a freedom that the masters can’t imagine. But the limits built into his implant give him painful shocks if his thoughts transgress the laws – or if one of the masters uses his “controller” gives him a direct shock.

Sandfly finds himself sent by his master to service a broken robot on a ship in Earth orbit which has newly returned from its maiden voyage, to the star Betalgeuse. He finds that the robot has been corrupted by contact with a new stream, apparently from the star itself – a stream containing a beautiful “singing”. Working under pressure from the ever-present masters, and finding himself increasingly fatigued from lack of proper sleep, Sandfly has to work out what’s going on, who knows what alreday, and what to do with what he finds out.

There’s some lovely writing here – Sandfly has a very distinctive, slightly sarcastic, voice:

This job is a can of wombats. I have no idea what that term means, exactly, but it’s something I got from GrimJack, and it seems to apply.

And the author’s not averse to making fairly direct political points:

But somehow, inexplicably, those who claimed to fear government were the ones who increased the power of it. And in defense of rights, they somehow managed to surrender theirs, blindly, to the worst of those they sought to defend.

But in the end, the writing and the plot are much more than this, and surpass many tropes. Let’s leave the last word to Sandfly:

I have lots of questions, as I’m sure you do too. I’ll find the answers, though, because that’s what debuggers do.