Metal of Night

Peace and Memory

Two Novels in the Secantis Sequence

by Mark W. Tiedemann

Review by Ann Cecil

Mark Tiedemann explains in the beginning of each of these books that he is writing a sequence, not a set of sequels. The books are set in the same universe, and characters in one book sometimes appear in another, but each book is a standalone novel. It truly can be enjoyed on its own, without reading any of the other books in the sequence.

And I am happy to report that "enjoy" is the right term for these books. While the politics are different, they have something of the feel of Ken McLeod's books: large canvases, major events, a good sized cast well handled and questions of ethics and principles examined in some depth.

Metal of Night is my favorite. This is a story set during a war, but it is much more than a war story. The tortured and conflicted Cambions: an ambitious father, his conscientious son and a mind-wiped fake son are the center of the story, even though much of the book is told from other points of view.

The book is set in a future where mankind has gone to the stars and found that they are not empty. Those living on Earth and the planets in the Solar System have become xenophobic: they form the Pan Humana, and want nothing to do with seti. They are ready to kill any humans who consort with the extra-terrestrials. The humans who have pioneered settlement in farther worlds have a very different attitude; they trade with seti, and plan to continue doing so.

The Pan Humana sends its military force, called the Armada (not the first name to hint of the author's sympathies). In the battle of Finders, two young pilots are shot down: Cira Kalinge and Alexan Cambion. The battle itself is a disaster for the Armada because of the unexpected intervention of the seti, but the Secessionists cannot rejoice too quickly: seti politics are not simple, and their allies must withdraw. There are indications that the Armada knew this would be a disaster, and set up the Commander who knew too much about past misdeeds on the Armada's part.

Cira survives by virtue of resourcefulness, courage, and dumb luck. She gets help from one of the sickest villains I've read: Hil Venner, who is all the more repulsive because he is clearly human. Alexan lives, but gets his mind-wiped, by the man he trusts the most: the father he wants so badly to please.

Its fairly clear from the outset where this battle is going, but there are a number of twists among the revelations and fast-moving action, along with some real depth to the characters that take this book above the standard space opera genre.

Peace and Memory happens a century or so later, and concerns the efforts of the now successful rebel worlds to come to terms with the Pan Humana. Earth and its Solar System possessions, having cut themselves off from the new and different, have grown corrupt and stagnant. One of the founders of the Commonwealth Republic, as the rebel coalition calls itself, has died. Or has he? Power brokers are keeping his body alive, so that his will cannot be executed, breaking up the corporation he built. He has downloaded his personality into an AI on his spaceship, and he also put some of his own DNA and a personality inlay into a young man who had lost his own memory in a spaceship accident.

Benajim Cyanus, who is driven partly by the grafted on memories, and partly by his desire to know who he used to be, brings the last request of the dead founder, Sean Merrick, to a lady pilot who was an old friend of Merrick. Merrick wants to be buried on Earth, in his family crypt. Tamyn Glass reluctantly takes on the job, even though she realizes the difficulties. She has to break into Merrick's highly protected headquarters, steal the corpse, smuggle it out of the republic, cross illegally into Pan Humana space, and then dodge the fortifications of Earth to land in the cemetery, open the crypt, bury Merrick, and then get out alive.

Glass and Cyanus join forces, and collect a mélange of interesting helpers, including a seti and a prophalactic (some kind of cyborg bodyguard). In a series of exciting maneuvers, they succeed in their task, learning new and interesting things about the workings of the Pan Humana, human greed, and what's been going on in the Republic as well. It is the get out alive part where they start having trouble. Peace, it turns out, has a very different meaning in this universe.

Tiedemann raises interesting questions about responsibility, moral and legal, in both these books. He is careful to include the shades of gray that plague real life. Both books (still available on Amazon, or through Meisha Merlin Publications directly) are highly recommended.

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