This Virtual Night

It's been a long time coming and the novel is finally here. C. S. Friedman's first book in nearly four years. After a stint writing YA, the author went back to her roots, to the science fiction genre where she started her career way back in 1987.

You may recall that writing the Magister trilogy took a lot out of Friedman and she needed a much-deserved break from that sort of story. That series was by far her most densely written, aggressively dark, and adult-themed work, and it took six years of her life to complete. Exhausted, Friedman wanted to write something shorter, something more linear, with a plot that wasn't as convoluted, with a much faster pace. Something that her younger fans could relate to a bit more and that her adult fans would enjoy as well. Whether or not The Dreamwalker Chronicles managed to do just that depends on who you ask. As I said before, I understand why SFF authors like Joe Abercrombie and C. S. Friedman would want to try to tap into the lucrative YA market. They are not the first and they certainly won't be the last. All I can say is that I'm happy that they have both reached the end of their YA series and will now concentrate on adult-oriented speculative fiction works. That's how they each made a name for themselves and the genre needs such authors writing at the top of their game.

Around the time Dreamweaver was published, Friedman announced that her next work would be set in the same universe as the novel This Alien Shore. This really got me excited! Even better, the author is now working on a sequel, which will turn this into a trilogy.

This Alien Shore was published in 1998, so it's been a while. Fear not, for you don't need to have read the novel to fully enjoy This Virtual Night. Both works are set in the same universe and are equally enjoyable, yet they can be read independently.

Here's the blurb:

Returning to the universe of New York Times Notable book This Alien Shore comes a new space opera from an acknowledged master of science fiction.

When deep-space travel altered the genes of the first interstellar colonists, Earth abandoned them. But some of the colonies survived, and a new civilization of mental and physical “Variants” has been established, centered around clusters of space stations known as the outworlds.

Now the unthinkable has happened: a suicide assault has destroyed the life support system of a major waystation. All that is known about the young men responsible is that in their last living moments they were receiving messages from an uninhabited sector of space, and were playing a virtual reality game.

Two unlikely allies have joined forces to investigate the incident: Ru Gaya, a mercenary explorer with a taste for high risk ventures, and game designer Micah Bello, who must find the parties responsible for the attack in order to clear his name. From the corridors of a derelict station lost to madness to an outlaw stronghold in the depths of uncharted space, the two now follow the trail of an enemy who can twist human minds to his purpose, and whose plans could bring about the collapse of outworld civilization.

Dark and complex worldbuilding has always been an aspect in which Friedman shines. This Alien Shore was a sprawling book, filled with cool concepts and big ideas. This sequel is not as dense and is written in a much smaller scale. Indeed, with the groundwork laid out by its predecessor, This Virtual Night can focus on the plot and not have to rely on worldbuilding. The author provides whatever information the reader might need by filling in the blanks when necessary, but otherwise one misses nothing for not having read the prequel.

In style and tone, this new work is not as dark and brooding as past SFF novels by C. S. Friedman. Not "light" by any stretch of the imagination, but This Virtual Night is a more fun and entertaining space opera than what the author has accustomed us to in the past. Have no fear, for it's still a convoluted tale that builds on some of the concepts that were introduced in This Alien Shore.

The bulk of the characterization is made up of the perspectives of two protagonists. Ruisa Gaya, an Outrider who wakes up in Tiananmen Station after a mission that has gone terribly wrong, and Micah Bello, a game designer falsely accused of an attack on a space station. When he barely escapes a murder attempt, Micah finds himself stranded on the abandoned Shenshido station, where things have taken a turn for the worse. Though Ru and Micah take center stage, I feel that the story would have benefited from fleshing out the supporting cast a little more. Especially Ivar and Jericho, since they play important roles in the greater scheme of things.

Although it takes a while for the storylines to come together, This Virtual Night doesn't suffer from any pacing issues. Things are never dull and the tale progresses at a good clip. The novel is a fun romp and a fast read. Virtual reality, hackers, a diversity of alien races that are offshoots of mankind, politicking, intrigue; that's C. S. Friedman's latest in a nutshell.

Looking forward to the final installment in this trilogy!

The final verdict: 7.75/10

You can read an extract from the book here.

For more info about this title, check out these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe

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