Author – Tobias Buckell
Pages: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction
Release Date: Feb 7 2006
When I first heard of Buckellâ€™s novels, Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin, I wasnâ€™t sure quite what to think. They were short (always an oddity in the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy), they had a strong Caribbean flair and, well… I thought the name Ragamuffin was kinda silly.
Still, the more I read about him and his novels, the more interested I became to see just exactly what they were about. So, I got my hands on copies of his two novels and quickly set to work forming an opinion of my own. And its a positive opinion, more or less.
Let me start off by saying this about Crystal Rain: Buckell manages to fit more into this lean novel than most authors do into novels twice as long. I donâ€™t know how he does it, but other authors (and editors) need to take note; this is how you tell a lean, fast paced and frenetic story without any wasted words. Each and every one of Crystal Rain‘s 384 pages burst at the seams with creativity: a vivid world inhabited by real people all wrapped up in a plot that races towards the finish line at full steam ahead.
Buckell tells the story through the eyes of several characters throughout the story (another accomplishment for a lean novel) and each of them give the reader a different sense of the world and the violent events taking place during the course of the story. The main protagonist, John DeBrun, is mildly interesting (moreso towards the end of the novel when the reader has some light shed on his past), but it is the other characters that surround John that really make the novel shine.
Foremost amongst these is a character named Pepper. A trench-coat wearing, dreadlocked and pissed off killing machine that has some sort of connection to Johnâ€™s forgotten past. I found myself eagerly anticipating any scene involving Pepper, whether it was told from his point of view or not.
Itâ€™s clear from the get-go that Buckellâ€™s Caribbean heritage plays a huge part in the novel. From the setting (a world inhabited by, more or less, Caribbean refugees from Earth), to the conflicts (Buckell mentioned Haitiâ€™s violent history as one inspiration for his writing in one interview) to the dialect of the characters.
And this is where we find what could be considered one of the novelâ€™s biggest problems: the dialect. Buckell, in an attempt at authenticity, chose to write dialogue of the Nanagadanâ€™s (the â€œgood-guysâ€ of the novel) just as it would be found in a current day setting among the Caribbean Islands. This means a lot of broken English and hard to read dialogue for the reader to wade through. I will admit that I had a really hard time with it at first and found that it got in the way of me connecting with the characters in the novel. As I moved further on in the novel, however, I found myself getting acquainted with the speech patterns of the characters and by the end decided I wouldnâ€™t have it any other way. Buckell made a risky move, one that is sure to turn off many readers, but in the end it payes off by helping to create a world, and a group of characters, that feels distinct and realistic.
The conflict between the aforementioned Nanagadanâ€™s (the Caribbean-based culture) and the Azteca (the Aztec-based culture) is a bloody and despondent affair that affords the perfect opportunity for Buckell to craft a fast, breakneck story that is always feeding the reader just enough new information to keep them from getting overwhelmed, but still feeling satisfied that things are moving along at a good pace.
My biggest criticism of the novel is that, ironically, the ending seems a little drawn out. With the rest of the novel being so fast paced, I would have liked to have seen a bit more visceral asskicking coming between the two opposing armies. Buckell seems to gloss over the most violent and gory portions of the story, and though I assume this is intentional, I would have liked to have seen some of the characters in action. Pepper is very clearly a proficient fighter, but many times we find Buckell ending a scene with a fight about to start and beginning the next scene with the fight having just ended.
All in all though, Buckell has crafted a great first novel thatâ€™s crammed full of action, has a terrific setting and manages to cram a whole lot of story into a manageable amount of pages. If Crystal Rain is any indication, Buckellâ€™s next two novels (Ragamuffin and Sly Mongooe) are sure to be just as entertaining. Heâ€™s definitely an author to keep an eye on in the upcoming years as he carves a niche for himself in amongst the heavy-hitters of the Science Fiction genre.
You can check out my interview with Tobias Buckell HERE.