Well, I'm finally up to date and it's been one heck of a ride!
Last July, I read the "first book" by "hot new author" Emily Devenport and it rocked my world. Of course, I quickly discovered that she wasn't a new author but her nine previous books were quite a lot previous, as there was a fifteen year gap between her previous novel, 'Enemies', published as by Lee Hogan, and this one. I went back to read and review all of them in order. I prepared for this new book by re-reading 'Medusa Uploaded' and then diving into this one. And, as always, Devenport surprised me.
Reading 'Medusa Uploaded' first, I had no idea if it connected to anything else the author had written and no expectation that it would. Reading it a second time after those earlier nine novels, connections started to appear. Gennady Mironenko? Baba Yaga? Now I know that those are clear ties to the two 'Belarus' books, which means that we're in the same universe.
Reading 'Medusa in the Graveyard', those ties got progressively deeper. It becomes clear, for instance, that our timeframe is after 'Enemies' because we meet one of the hybrids projected for creation at the end of that book, in a danger suit, going about her assassination business. However, they are not the only ties at hand. Bomarigala shows up, of a culture where the more syllables in your name, the more status you have, and Omsk gets a mention. That means that we're in the same universe as 'EggHeads' and 'GodHeads'. Oh, and the time fractures we encounter on Graveyard are surely a tie to those in 'Broken Time', published as Maggy Thomas.
Just for emphasis, that means that the 'Medusa' books (by Emily Devenport) are set in the same universe as the 'Belarus' books (by Lee Hogan) and the 'EggHeads' books (by the earlier Emily Devenport) and very possibly 'Broken Time' (by Maggy Thomas). How many other books connect to what appear to be two entirely separate series and a third unrelated book, which were written by what appear to be three authors, but are really all the same one? I like this. It's twisted. Now, do 'Shade' and 'Larissa' fit in here too?
For those who haven't read all those other books (and you should, trust me), let's try to move forward from 'Medusa Uploaded'. That book took place on a generation starship, the Olympia, which is at least a few generations into its journey to Graveyard, home to three sentient but sleeping, and immensely powerful starships, from whose DNA Olympia's entire populace was apparently designed. It was a thriller, a hard science fiction story, a horror novel, a fantasy, a mystery and no doubt a bunch of other things besides.
This book takes place as the Olympia arrives in the Graveyard system, with its occupants keen to discover what their mission actually is and a plethora of others chiming in to explain in, well, let's just say nice ways and very not nice ways. It's as many genres as its predecessor, but it's a mind trip as well. The journey of our heroine, Oichi Angeles, former worm, through the canyons of Graveyard to meet the Three, is a glorious feat of imagination, full of time loops, walking trees, sentient ships, ghostly guides and a host of other things you really need to discover for yourself.
There's so much here that any attempt to summarise is doomed to failure. If you aren't sold from what I've already mentioned, just trust me and buy this book and everything else Emily Devenport has written, then blitz through the lot. She doesn't write like other authors and that's a good thing. She does things that nobody else would do and I adore her for it. She achieves things that they dream about, often apparently by accident (but not really).
One thing that struck me here is how she can make space seem big. Yeah, that ought to be obvious but it takes an incredibly skilled writer to really make us feel like we've come to terms with the entirety of the universe at hand, only to pull back a curtain and show us how limited our thinking was. Again and again and again. She has that incredible knack of letting us walk on her special carpet, only to pull it away and show us that there's no floor.
Most space operas tend to place every alien race in a sort of balance where their technology is comparable, wherever they're from. Everything in Emily Devenport's books is an exercise in difference. When the Merlin approaches the Olympia, it takes a couple of days to travel as far as the big ship can in a year, even at full speed. That sort of thing applies to everything and everyone here. Different races or groups of people have different tech and often wildly different capabilities.
An Enemy ship shows up at one point and gets precisely nowhere, through the actions of beings mostly asleep. That's a real eye-opener after two books that explain how dangerous they are. One hybrid in a danger suit can wreak unlimited havoc in many places visited here. The protagonist of this book is a pawn in that one. And, through it all, Baba Yaga continues to play a long game. We can't not admire her patience and perseverance.
My biggest problem is more of a panel discussion to be. I wish I'd finished this book before CoKoCon 2019, where we honoured Emily Devenport and I got to finally ask her a slew of questions about her work. I have more of those now! That panel to be is about how to place our culture in someone else's as cultural artifacts. Devenport does that with music and film here, in highly evocative fashion, but I couldn't help but have questions.
For instance, the music that's stored in the database that's implanted into the skulls of the Olympians is predominantly instrumental: classical music and film soundtracks. When it's vocal, it's showtunes. That's all well and good, but where's the crappy mainstream music? Was that never saved and, if so, why not?
The films stored in a similar database are almost all classics, many of them Japanese. Sure, they're used to great effect in the story but, if an alien culture was exposed to the entirety of Earth cinema at once, are these what would stand out for attention? Would they focus on titles like Kwaidan and The Day the Earth Stood Still if popularity metadata was missing? How would they understand the latter, without the historical context of its time? Are they likely to remember the same quotes without decades of pop culture memes to enforce them? I have no idea, but I want on that panel.
I will add that I had a chuckle about a cultural reference made in a wildly different way. On their way into the Graveyard system, the Olympians visit the Belters, asteroid miners, to trade and to learn what they can. One key character here is Jay Momoa, a large Polynesian who leads a haka for effect. I dug that homage.
It's fair to say that my biggest problem with 'Medusa in the Graveyard' is simply the fact that I've now read all of Emily Devenport's books. Frankly, I may well start again and work through them all to see how they play after I know how they turn out and to see how the connections between them could play in the light of the revelations of this book. I don't want this ride to be over. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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