Feeling lonely after devouring "Leviathan Falls," the final book in "The Expanse" series of space opera novels by Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham (writing as James S.A. Corey) that dropped this past November? Help is on the way!
Acolytes of riveting military sci-fi combat should flock to "The Shattered Skies" (opens in new tab) (Del Rey, 2022), Australian author John Birmingham's scintillating sequel to 2019's "The Cruel Stars." (opens in new tab)
Here, a cobbled-together band of freedom fighters teams up to fend off a savage invasion by a resurrected faction of species-purist humans known as the Sturm, who were once banished to the darkest corners of the galaxy. Now they're back to exterminate all persons enhanced with genetic engineering and cybernetic devices in an effort to cleanse mankind once and for all.
In "The Cruel Stars," (opens in new tab) the Sturm launched a surprise offensive by broadcasting destructive malware across the altered humanity's communications network that instantly mutated those hardwired to the system into bloodthirsty murderers. As the noose of potential extinction tightens, survivors of that ruthless attack attempt to battle back to protect the last shards of civilization.
"The Shattered Skies" (opens in new tab) picks up right after the debut novel's finale, with Cmdr. Lucinda Hardy and gruff Admiral Frazer McLennan employing the Royal Armadalen Navy's lone surviving battlecruiser to reengage the Sturm. With help from the notorious outlaw Sephina L'trel, a former death row inmate called Booker, and Princess Alessia, the remaining heir to the elite Montanblanc ul Haq Corporation, these five heroes unite against fanatical Sturm forces and another mounting threat that might prove even more dangerous.
Space.com spoke with Birmingham about the explosive narrative exploits in "The Shattered Skies," (opens in new tab) what fans can expect in this entertaining follow-up, and reveals the title for next year's third and final installment in the "Cruel Stars Trilogy."
"It's sequential and picks up about three or four weeks after the end of the big battle in 'The Cruel Stars,'" Birmingham explains. "Our heroes have been basically running away after they've shot off all weapons at the Battle of Montrachet and are headed to a place called Descheneaux Station, which is an old Armadalen Navy depot, to pick up some stocks and things go awry."
"Origin stories like 'The Cruel Stars' (opens in new tab)are great to write because you're starting with a blank slate and create the world and set people off on their arcs. They're enormous fun, but when you get to the bridging novel, which is what 'The Shattered Skies' is, it can be a challenge."
What Birmingham most wanted to do in the sequel is delve into consequences.
"A lot of stuff happened in the first book, and this band of five did some questionable things, and I wanted to show that there are consequences for the moves they make," he said. "It also builds out the world. In 'Cruel Stars' people are zapping light-years here and there and you've got space stations and planets, but in the end it's quite a constrained, narrow space. It's hinted that there's this vast, Greater Volume beyond and it's so large that even with faster-than-light travel and folding space it takes years to get from the edge to the inner planets and Old Earth."
"So we finally start to see that although the Sturm — or the Human Republic, as they call themselves increasingly in the second book — are monsters, we begin to suspect that maybe the system that Lucinda, Sephina, McLennan and the others support might not be a system worth defending."
Looking ahead past "The Shattered Skies" and into the horizon towards the third and final book in the "Cruel Stars Trilogy," Birmingham reveals the chosen title.
"It will be called 'The Forever Dead' and it's got a little Philip Marlowe feel to it, I reckon," Birmingham told Space.com, referring to a fictional detective book series by hardboiled author Raymond Chandler. "Those were some of the types of books that first got me into writing. I'm supposed to deliver a final draft to Del Rey in March or early April, so I'm quite hopeful that the next book would just come out in January of 2023."
"The Shattered Skies" (opens in new tab) is available now at book stores and major online outlets.