Cover Image: Far from the Light of Heaven

Far from the Light of Heaven

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A new addition to the halls of exemplary space opera. Tade Thompson has created a unique and exciting story that will stay with you for a long time.  I didn't want this to end.
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I really enjoyed reading Tade Thompson's Far from the Light of Heaven. I finished Thompson's Wormwood Trilogy last year and was excited to see that he had a new book coming out this year. My expectations going into this book were pretty high - happy to report that this book is just as good as the Wormwood Trilogy.  I will recommend that my library purchase a copy of this book.

Thanks to Orbit Books and NetGalley for providing an early copy for me to review.
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A murder mystery set on a spaceship is always a fantastic premise, and Far from the Light of Heaven delivers on this potential. When first mate Campion wakes up after sleeping the majority of the trip, she discovers some of the other passengers have been gruesomely murdered. An investigator and his A.I. partner journey to the ship to investigate the case, which will have far-reaching consequences that effect multiple solar systems. Thompson does a great job developing the characters and tension, though the conclusion feels unfortunately rushed. However, it's a very fun read that embraces the claustrophobia of its setting, delivers sharp critiques on capitalism and colonialism, and introducers readers to a world they'll want to return to.
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This was a fun, fast read although I definitely would have liked more world-building and a bit more character development. There was a choppiness to the story that made me feel distanced and not quite connected to the characters or the setting but despite that, the characters, story and mystery were all good, although not particularly memorable. Overall enjoyed the book but parts of it were confusing to me, especially the sections concerning "the aliens," and some of the ending.
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A stellar blend of multiple genres! There was only one moment toward the end that I started to really fall out of the story because of the introduction of new characters.
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Michelle “Shell” Campion is first mate to a sophisticated AI. That is, until the AI malfunctions and she becomes Captain of the massive passenger ship Ragtime. Meant to deliver a thousand people to a colony planet, Shell wakes up instead to find 31 murdered passengers.

Rasheed Fin is sent to begin an investigation after an odd message arrives. With him is AI robot Salvo. Their goal is to determine who- or what- killed the 31 sleeping passengers.

When governor of Lagos station, Lawrence, receives word about the Ragtime and its captain, he and his daughter, alien Joké, set out to offer assistance, because Shell is his goddaughter.

This makeshift crew are working with rebellious robots, a dumbed down backup AI, and a possible murderer in their midst.

When laid out like that, Far from the Light of Heaven sounds like any murder mystery, just set in space. However, what made it really hard for me to enjoy was the severe lack of worldbuilding and language.

Thompson just throws us into the action, with little to no explanation. I think his goal was to ultimately show not tell the histories, advances, and progresses of humanity, but it’s really hard to follow it all because we have no starting point. Pretty much none of this book takes place on Earth, so we have no easy frame of reference. In his afterward, he talks about how at the core of this story is a murder mystery, but the buildup to what caused the murder requires storytelling outside of the Ragtime, which I think is where Thompson kind of digresses. It’s not overly necessary, but Thompson gives way more time building up to the explanation and giving background than just letting the answers unfold. And, like with the world he’s established,we’re just kind of thrust into the happenings.

In addition to there being an excess of unimportant information, the language makes the story hard to follow. There are a lot of big words and technical space mumbo jumbo that went over my head. It also feels stilted, like sentences end before they’re done, or they’re half a thought that’s finished with another one word sentence. Maybe this is meant to mirror the language or speech patterns of the people out on the Brink colonies, but having the whole book structured like that made it tedious to read.

As for the characters and plot, I think Thompson could’ve had all of the events unfold within the Ragtime. People and ships kept showing up, and the ship was in orbit around the colony planet Bloodroot, so radio communications were also sporadically available. There were plenty of chances for Shell and her crew to understand what happened and why people were murdered without shuffling the reader from place to place around the universe. Thompson really wanted the story to remain a murder mystery set in the most deadly and confined place, but he took us to a lot of places that were the exact opposite of that. The study would’ve been more powerful, and achieved his goal better, if we had stayed on board the Ragtime the entire time.

Shell, Fin, and Lawrence were basic as far as characters go; they’re human and each have a goal in mind: Shell wants to keep her makeshift crew and passengers alive, Fin wants to solve the murders, and Lawrence just wants to help Shell in honor of her dead father, and his closest friend. The most interesting characters were Salvo, a robot working with Fin, Joké who’s half alien, and the Ragtime itself, an AI so advanced it could be considered a citizen. I personally thought the idea of AIs so perfect and realistic they could almost be people was interesting, but it was also fascinating seeing how the humans grappled with the idea that a human-like AI simply cannot be perfect because it was created and designed by humans, who are inherently imperfect.

I see what Thompson was trying to do, but I think he missed the mark by overcomplicating his story. Loved the idea, but the execution left me wanting.
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This was fantastic. Going in I really didn't know much about what this was supposed to be about. So it was super fun to just experience this and discover what was going on. Some interesting characters are initially introduced and then a crazy mystery unfolds. I was very invested in what was going on, the mystery was fascinating, and the scifi elements were really interesting. There are aliens, AI, space stations, colonies on other planets, etc.

I read through this really quickly because I had to know what was going to happen! My criticisms for this are minor. I was slightly annoyed at some of the pacing and how a chapter would end on a cliff hanger and then the next chapter would start with a different point of view. But like I said, I read this really quickly. So these things didn't annoy me much! Overall it was a satisfying read.

Sexual violence? No. Other content warnings? Body horror, claustrophobia, racism, death, danger.
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Tade Thompson’s Far From the Light of Heaven is a fast-paced murder mystery that takes place on  commercial spaceship, Ragtime, which is ferrying its passengers over a 10 year journey to the colony planet Bloodroot. This was my first book from Thompson and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t intend to fly through this one so quickly but it was nearly impossible to put down.

This novel was intricate, but also left me wanting more. I craved more explanation for certain things, which weren’t even necessarily consequential to the story, but which sparked my interest in the universe Thompson created. In the afterword, Thompson talks about the tangential nature of writing in general, but especially about space, and how there were pieces left on the cutting room floor. I wanted those pieces, desperately, especially at the end, which felt abrupt.

Speaking of the ending, this one is sure to either make or break this book for people. It didn’t necessarily bother me, but I can see how it might frustrate some readers.
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I received a copy of this from NetGalley in return for an honest review. 

Man do I love a good space mystery. Stuck on one AI controlled ship for the most part, Shell and her crew must solve the mystery before they run out of air. I really love books that have some sort of AI element that we get to hear from. I enjoyed how in this book, the ship itself is a malfunctioning AI. In what was supposed to be a simple journey run by the AI and waking up in a "new world" Shell wakes up with a AI that isn't doing it's job and other sleeping passengers being murdered by the bots that were supposed to take care of it. 

I really enjoyed the full cast of characters. They all had well fleshed out personalities, which I find lacking much of the time when there is such a large cast. My one complaint is that the chapters are fairly short and change perspective quickly. I know this is to build suspense and keep the reader guessing what is going on, without revealing things too soon, but this is one of my least favorite styles. Once I was into a chapter, reading from one POV, I was sort of taken out of the story by the swift shifts. 

Overally, this was a great book. The rather abrupt ending did set it up for the next in the series which I am definitely looking forward to.
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While I tend to gravitate more towards the fantasy side than science fiction, I've been hearing a lot of good things about Thompson't writing and the locked room premise only added to the appeal of this one. I was really excited to dive in. And this futuristic space-scape of a ship traveling to a remote colony hooks the reader in right away. I really enjoyed not only the way the mystery unfolds, but also the motivations. I enjoyed the alien aspects as well as the originality of the planets, the space stations and the depth of the character development. 

I think that Thompson rather masterfully handles and inserts social commentary quite relevant to today in the story here. This would definitely make for a great discussion starter for a book club! I did want a bit more about Frances. Plus, the ending oddly felt both too drawn out and too abrupt (I know that doesn't really make sense - but again, this is why I think this would be a great book to spark a lively talk amongst readers). I have been curious about Thompson's earlier trilogy for quite a while now, and after finishing this one, I am even more eager to check it out!
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Don’t lose ’em; don’t break ’em

This is the motto of the corporation that owns the Ragtime, a new ship setting off to bring colonizers to the planet Bloodroot. It should be a simple job to ferry several thousand sleepers in stasiss to a planet—so simple it has a crew of one: Michelle Campion, first mate and over-trained back-up to the AI captain who will do all of the work. But when Ragtime arrives in system, Shell wakes to an awful discovery: the infallible AI is down, and some of her sleepers will never open their eyes again. She sends out a distress signal, with the sinking knowledge that nothing will ever be the same again.

Humans in the cosmos are like errant weeds

Whew this was a wild ride, from start to finish.

A locked-room murder mystery set in space with the psychedelic space-time trippiness of We Have Always Been Here mixed with the deadly intonations of duplicitous AI and the murderousness of space like Dead Space? Yes, please!

There’s not a whole lot to the story that I really want to talk about, but this was a damn ride. My heart was thumping, my body was shaking, and the entire time all I could ask myself was who and why?

This was not quite the book I was expecting, but overall, it was definitely enjoyable and left me with something to think about. I liked Shell’s character—she was doing her best in an absolutely fucked situation, I enjoyed Fin (and slowly started to understand something was not quite right with him), and I absolutely wanted more pagetime with Ragtime, who was an absolute delight. And I wanted more of um, certain characters who added a certain element to things but were kind of a side note?

But ultimately, this book asks the following questions: Who gets to settle the galaxy? Who stays behind? Who gets a voice in the storytelling? Who speaks for the voiceless, and what does justice really mean? And who gets the blame when shit goes completely sideways?

I loved this quote from the author in his afterword:

I drew on my experience in my first few months of medical school. You’re well-trained, you know a lot, but you’re aware of exactly what you don’t know. It’s a combination of terror and exhilaration on the inside and calm on the outside.

That is Shell in a nutshell.

Because stuff goes to shit and well, that’s not exactly what you want in space, right?

Anywho, it was a great read, although I was a little disappointed in the ending, because I wanted a little more resolution than want I got.

“We estimate that you’re missing two and a half people,” says Fin.

“And a half?” says Shell.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
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Orbit Books is my go to publisher. I never used to pay attention to publishers, but Orbit’s curated collection of creative and diverse books has gotten consistently better ratings from me than any other publisher. So when I saw that they had a locked room mystery set on a spaceship, I was thrilled. And I was even more excited when I got approved for an advanced copy!

I was so excited, in fact, that I forgot to check what tense this was written in prior to requesting. And that’s totally on me. This doesn’t seem to bother most readers, but I really have a hard time connecting with novels written in present tense – which unfortunately Far From the Light of Heaven is. This isn’t an ultimate deal breaker, but I have a bad track record of not being able to like them. So I try to avoid present tense novels particularly for ARCs, because I know it affects my enjoyment. But I was still excited to read this book, so I kept an open mind. Even aside from the present tense narration, it admittedly took me a little bit to get used to Thompson’s writing style. It was very clipped and full of short, to-the-point sentences. It wasn’t the type of writing to meander around giving long descriptions. But after a couple of chapters, I got used to the writing style and was quickly absorbed in the story.

Far From the Light of Heaven is about a young woman named Michelle Campion embarking on her first space mission as first mate for a long haul transport of colonists from Earth to a far-off space colony. The roll was supposed to be mostly ceremonial with all crew and passengers spending the ten year journey in stasis while the ship AI runs things. But when Michelle wakes up as the ship approaches Lagos Station, she finds the ship barely functioning,
The colony sends a disgraced investigator named Rasheed Fin and his Artificial partner to investigate just what went wrong on the ship.

I can’t say much about the plot without giving things away. And this is a story that is best to avoid spoilers for. But it is fast-paced and compelling with plenty of action. The book turned out to be less of a murder mystery and more of a space survival story, but it was still quite the page-turner.

The story also included commentary about exploited workers and social inequalities. On top of that were explorations about cultural heritage, guilt, retribution, the afterlife, and the impact of artificial intelligence. It was a complex story with a lot of intriguing elements.

The reason I gave this four stars instead of five was that things were jumbled and confusing at times. This seemed like the type of story to have a limited number of characters, but new characters kept being introduced. The story would be talking about events on the spaceship and then would suddenly jump to some random person on the planet. Sometimes those new characters would turn out to important. Sometimes they only led to yet another character and would never be mentioned again. I had no idea who was supposed to be important or who was just a side character. On top of that, the story was non-chronological. Some of those narrative jumps were back in time, and while the story said where each section took place, I don’t recall it saying when it was taking place. So I got thrown off quite a few times when something turned out to be a flashback. And jumping around made some of the characters’ actions seem abrupt rather than natural development. It didn’t ruin the story, but it definitely kept it from being a five star read.

Overall, Far From the Light of Heaven was still a creative and engaging space mystery story about the survival both of individuals and societies as a whole. Told through the lens of Afrofuturism and pulling from multiple genres, this exciting yet cerebral story will appeal to many different readers.
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As with many books, if you have good copy you can often hook me early. Far from the Light of Heaven promises a kind of locked room murder mystery aboard a sleeper ship far from Earth. Tade Thompson delivers on this premise in most senses of the word, and overall I enjoyed the book. Yet there are enough rough parts to the novel to make me hesitate to shout its praises or pick up a sequel should one be forthcoming.

I received an eARC from NetGalley and Orbit in exchange for this review.

Michelle “Shel” Campion is the captain of the starship Ragtime, which will be taking 1000 sleeping passengers to another star system. She doesn’t have to do anything, though, because the ship has an advanced AI that actually runs the whole flight. She’s just there as backup. Until she wakes up at their destination and finds the ship’s AI offline and a sizable fraction of her passengers murdered. Shel has to team up with an investigator from Bloodroot, the colony that was her destination, and also deal with curious interlopers from the nearby Lagos Station. But there’s more going on here than meets the eye, and their unknown adversary will stop from nothing to keep them from solving this mystery and saving the colonists.

Probably the best part of this story is the way that Thompson writes each chapter, each scene, with a sense of urgency and drama. Even in dialogue-heavy exchanges, such as those that establish Finn’s disgraced status on Bloodroot, or Shel and Finn’s initial encounter, the tension is often electric. This is a story that feels noir despite being set in a future where humanity travels the stars, and I recognize that is quite a feat.

This tension occludes the actual mystery, however, with dramatic twists sometimes derailing the investigation. Though Thompson avoids too much exposition, often deferring explanation about an event until later in the novel when it makes sense, the result is a plot that becomes increasingly convoluted as it unfolds. Without going into spoilers, let’s just say that a significant portion of the antagonist’s motivation occurs for reasons that are largely unrelated to what’s happening here and now. While I don’t think that makes the plot bad per se, I just want potential readers to understand that this book lacks the tidy and cozy context of most locked room mysteries.

Similarly, I wish Thompson had done more worldbuilding in the sense that we have precious little understanding of the governmental structures of this society, either on Earth, within the solar system, or in other star systems. Resolving such ambiguity isn’t strictly necessary for the story—and, again, I appreciate Thompson’s forbearance of exposition—but I felt like I was left with a very incomplete picture of this future. Though nominally Afrofuturist, at least in the corner we get to see, with Lagos Station and Bloodroot both sporting predominantly Nigerian people and their descendants, the book could have given us a much richer understanding of these elements.

Finally, the Lambers. Initially presented as very alien beings who exist at least partially outside of our spacetime (including a kind of hybrid who is one of the main characters), we learn a different origin story for the Lambers later in the book. Again, I don’t mind this revelation—though it doesn’t feel particularly earned in the sense that at no time was I guided to ask what the Lambers were. It didn’t feel like that was a mystery, and then I was told what they are and I was just like … ok, cool, I guess?

With all of this criticism you would be forgiven for thinking I disliked Far from the Light of Heaven. It’s more accurate to say I’m being hard on it because I feel like it had a lot of potential to be so much more than it is. This book is a competent story, with some solid character development, excellent action sequences, and plenty of drama and tension. If you like mystery thrillers more than I, then you will enjoy this novel. In my case, I was hoping for something that I didn’t ultimately find here.
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This book starts off as a space mystery, but those of you expecting tropes will be disappointed.  Tade Thompson writes in a very unique style, where there are regular plot mixed with surprise interludes of something that is completely unexplained, and for lack of a better term, feels batshit in the moment.  Like a character seemingly jumping around time. The effect is to put you in a more atmospheric state of mind in terms of enjoying the novel, and appreciate how the author explores humanity and belonging.  From Rosewood, the author likes to start tales in the middle, then gradually (and partially) reveal the backstory that would be the bread and butter of other novels.  The author however, is much more interested in exploring consciousness and humanity.  Don't go into this book thinking it will be standard Sci Fi, and do go into this book if you like the author or are craving something different.
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Tade Thompson is a fantastic author.  Their Rosewood Trilogy is an evocative work of world-building better than almost any other science fiction series that immediately comes to my mind.  I was hopeful that this novel was a fraction as good as those books were, and really shouldn't have had any doubts at all.  Far from the Light of Heaven kept my attention the whole way through.  I devoured it!  Great narrative, great characters, and a locked-room mystery that you'll never solve on your own.  This is such a wonderful book.  Read it immediately, everyone.
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Far from the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson

Oh, I so wanted to love this book! 

I have been reading a lot of fantasy lately, and I really was jonesing for some good science fiction. I had heard of the author Tade Thompson, and heard good things, but hadn’t gotten around to Rosewater (which is on my TBR pile).  So when I saw a new book by him available as an eARC from Orbit on NetGalley I got excited. It sounded like it would be right up my alley - locked room murder mystery on a space ship! What fun! And the book started out very promisingly. We’re introduced to Shell, the young woman on her first voyage as captain. Then we meet Fin, the disgraced investigator trying to get his job back. 

And from there, the book spirals out of control, like the ship falling out of orbit. It feels like the authority had a bunch of interesting ideas but no coherent way to put them together into one story. They don’t all feel like the belong to the same story. All of the characters are ciphers- none of them get any development and they all felt flat and samey. 

Sometimes it feels like the author got 1/3 of the way into the book and didn’t know where it was going and threw in something new. Robot wolf! Evil AI! Political drama with earth! Vengeful exploited workers! Aliens who might be ghosts! It’s all too much and none of it works. 

But I think the biggest problem is that it’s not a good mystery. There are no clues. There are no suspects. The author just puts in an extremely long infodump chapter 2/3 of the way through telling you who is the bad guy and why. 

All that being said, I liked the writing style and I might try another book by Tade Thompson. But not right away.
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Thanks to Orbit for providing a review copy!

I read this one in four hours.

Four. Hours.

I didn't mean to. I had other things to do that Sunday. But I was fresh off reading something else and I figured, why not start this for a couple chapters before moving on for the day. That's not what happened. The first chapter is deceptive, in a way, because while it's not comparatively any longer than any other part of the book, it moves comparatively slower. Not that you'd realize that when reading it for the first time though. It kinds of lulls you into a false sense of security before taking off like a rocket and not stopping until you've reached the end.

In some ways, it's a lesser story for that speed. Character development and inter-relationships are skin deep, and introduced when and as necessary for the story. They're usually only nuanced enough to add some heretofore unrevealed plot point to the current state of the narrative, which you'll need later to understand the full mystery a decent way through the novel. Calling it a locked-room mystery in space - as some have - is apt, but it's not the kind of mystery where you can figure things before things are revealed to you. As the reader, you're missing key pieces of information right up until the novel decides to reveal them to you. But don't let that stop you from reading this. The very leanness of this story is what allows it to move so fast, and it's what kept my attention all the way through with nary a break.

To be honest, the classic "roller-coaster ride" descriptor is a good one here. When you're pulled along as fast as you are here, you don't have time to examine the scenery (the aforementioned character introductions, development and associated motivations), and instead just do your best to enjoy the ride, catching glimpses of relevant detail along the way, but generally just losing yourself in the moment. So while I can acknowledge that some concessions were made in the name of momentum, I don't hold it against the story because I was locked down hard all the way through. If you're at all a fan of genre fiction (<i>2001</i> is the immediate comparison you'll make in the second chapter, and there's one more that you'll draw comparisons to once the book solves the mystery for you, but it would be a spoiler to name it here) you'll have seen this story before and know roughly what's coming after a certain point, but the execution here is good enough that everything feels fresh and exciting all the same.

I also have to mention that I really appreciate the way the author ended this story. It's the kind of thing that would be changed in any Hollywood adaptation, or at least it would have been some years ago. It takes guts to actually have your characters willingly face the consequences of their actions, and especially in those cases where there's nothing that person could have done to alter the course of events. You'll see what I mean, and I see already that this is a point of contention for some people, but it really worked for me, and in my opinion really was a perfect ending for this story.

Anyway, four hours, straight through. Your mileage may vary, but I don't think so. Since this one was so good, I should probably check out <i>Rosewater</i> one of these days...
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4.5 stars

I am grateful to Orbit Books for sending me an advanced copy of this book for review.

I enjoyed this book immensely. This is the first book I've read by Thompson since the Rosewater series, and I think he is proving to be a trusted author of mine. This was a refreshing take on the "locked door mystery", being set on a space ship in the far future, which differed from Rosewater which was set on earth in the near future.

This story was intriguing from the start and was well paced. The setting was immersive, the characters and their relationships were interesting, and the mystery was very well done. The science fiction aspect was also very accessible, making it a good book for people who are hesitant about hard sci-fi, while still being fun for sci-fi lovers.

My one gripe with the story (a minor one) was that i felt like it was too short. I know I normally complain about books being longer than necessary (or longer than is bearable in some cases...) but this story could have benefitted from more exploration into the characterization, as well as the science itself. Basically, I just wanted a little more... But overall I thought it was a well constructed mystery, in a great setting, with an interesting cast of characters.

I recommend for fans of sci-fi that isn't too science heavy, and also mysteries, especially people who enjoyed Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty.
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This sounded so promising to me but unfortunately it fell short. 
The writing style took me a good minute to get into and by the time I did I was already checked out of the plot.
I'm disappointed because there are very good parts of this story but there is also a lot of confusing and difficult parts. 
The mystery kept me in.
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Far From the Light of Heaven was an exciting murder mystery set on a colonial ship on it's 10 year mission to a new world. Great characters and personalities that you want to learn more about. I hope there's a sequel so we can learn more about the Lambers and the changes that were wrought at the end of the novel.
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