Cover Image: Far from the Light of Heaven

Far from the Light of Heaven

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Member Reviews

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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I loved this locked-room scifi! One of my top 2021 reads.  Full review will be posted on fanfiaddict.
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This book is everything I want in a space mystery. I love locked room mysteries, and this book utterly blew me away with its version on a spaceship. It’s utterly thought-provoking and extremely hard to put down!

“Let me get this straight. You have never investigated a killing on board a large spacecraft?”
“Any spacecraft, really. But don’t worry. The principle is the same, except all your culprits are locked in here. With murder, some things never change: means, motive, opportunity.”


Shell has trained for years to go into space and now finally has her chance as the captain of the Ragtime, a passenger transport bound for the colony of Bloodroot. It’s a bit of a joke, though, that all that training is mostly superfluous as all the real work is done by the ship’s AI while she and the passengers are in an induced sleep. But when she’s woken on the other side, it’s to disaster. Ragtime isn’t responding and dozens of passengers are dead. Desperate to save the rest, she contacts Bloodroot for help, and they send her Fin and his Artifical partner Salvo. Fin’s currently in disgrace due to a repatriation job gone wrong, but surely even he can figure out what murdered her passengers. But more importantly, they need to figure out how to survive, because the actions they take on this one spaceship may soon affect the future of the entire galaxy.

“Why am I insane?”
“Because you are still trying to solve a murder when you should be trying to survive. Tick-tock, Rasheed. Life support is running out.”


The book is mainly told from the captain and the investigator’s point of view, though there are several other POV characters. I loved Shell from the first page. As someone who’s known from the start that she’s basically an overtrained babysitter, she rises to the occasion of having all of that knowledge suddenly be very, very necessary for her (and the ship’s) continued survival. She’s lacking in a few of the soft skills – she comes off as an insufferable know-it-all occasionally – but her focus is always on her duty to her (remaining) passengers. Fin, on the other hand… well, Finn hates space, and he knows the reason he was sent on this mission – which has nothing to do with repatriation – was because he’s already someone his bosses feel willing to wipe their hands of if he screws it up. What exactly repatriation is is something that it takes a good chunk of the book to explain, but, like the rest of the breadcrumbs throughout the book, it’s totally worth it. There’s a few other characters, including retired astronaut Lawrence, a quasi-uncle of Shell’s and now the in-title-only governor of Lagos station, and his daughter Joké, who come rushing to Shell’s aid when he hears that something’s gone wrong. Beko, the actual administrator of the station, originally struck me as nothing more than another politician, but by the end of the book, I was firmly a fan.

“The pressure of living is the pressure of the reader of a story who wants something to go awry, otherwise what’s the point?”


And that’s one of the things I loved about this book. Hints of the plot are scattered like breadcrumbs, and your initial interpretation of events (or characters) is likely to be shaken as the book progresses. It’s hard, though, to talk too much about the plot without going into spoilers. The pacing is terrific, with one discovery or twist after another keeping the plot moving, and the book was extremely hard for me to put down. The mystery portion itself is top notch, but it’s also exploring themes of inequality and colonialism; both Lagos and Bloodroot are based on Afro-futurist principles, with Bloodroot especially adhering to living with their new planet, in direct opposition to the climate-wrecked Earth. The only thing that stopped me from giving it 5 stars was some “men-writing-women” stumbles that took me out of the story.

Overall, easily a 4.5 star book, and one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. I’ve already added the author’s previous trilogy to near-the-top of my TBR and cannot wait to see what he writes next!
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An interesting story set in the distant future, on the AI ship called The Ragtime, Far From The Light of Heaven follows Michelle (Shell) Campion as she co pilots her first ever mission- a ten year journey for most of which she (and the rest of the passengers) will be in a state of deep sleep as Ragtime navigates. But something goes wrong and Shell is awoken early to find a wolf in her room, Ragtime unresponsive, and thirty of her passengers dead and dismembered. Now, with the help of an investigator sent to assist her case, a family friend, and his daughter, Shell must find the murderer and get control of Ragtime before it's too late and the lives of the rest of the hundreds of passengers still on board are all lost. 

Far From The Light of Heaven was a really interesting story with a premise that I absolutely love- murder mystery set in the confines of space is the perfect backdrop for suspense and tension thick enough that you can cut it with a knife- and Tade Thompson executes this concept fairly well. Although I wish the tension and claustrophobia of the situation was more pronounced, the urgency of the situation was always front and center- with my main issue being that I wished some scenes lasted a bit longer, allowing for the tension to really settle into the atmosphere and permeate the moment. The story was rather fast-paced which worked against the tension at times but did work in favor of the story as a whole since it never left a moment feeling dull or slow. 

The characters were all unique and well-crafted individuals. I got a clear sense of all their personalities and motivations with my only problem being that at times the way relationships progressed felt a bit too fast and rushed. I wish some characters got a little bit more page time than they did, but I still enjoyed each one that was introduced. 

The villain of the story was great, the motivation and desires felt real and left me feeling conflicted over their actions in a way that all good villains should. I only wish that they were introduced sooner so that I could have more time with them to attach to their character and sit in their thoughts. They were only really introduced towards the last portion of the book which made their introduction and backstory feel more like an info-dump of character information instead of like a natural progression where the reader gradually learns more about the character and their motivations over the course of a few chapters. It felt a bit like unreached potential to me- especially given how complicated the motives and desires of this character were. 

All in all, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. There were definitely some rough edges that I wish were cleaned up a bit more, but no flaws glaring enough to make me dislike the story. It was a very fast and enjoyable read that flew by pretty quickly and I'd definitely be willing to check out more books by Tade Thompson within the same genre.
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TL;DR

Tade Thompson’s Far from the Light of Heaven explores the closed room mystery in the ultimate closed environment – a space ship far from Earth. This novel is full of interesting characters and big ideas. Highly recommended.

Review: Far from the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson

Space is an inhospitable environment for humans. The low gravity causes redistribution of bodily fluids and bone loss. The lack of a day/night cycle has psychological impacts. Radiation is everywhere. But, as we all know, humans love nothing more than a challenge. As a species, humans will find ways to solve these issues in order to survive. But there is the human issue that we’ll never solve. Humans, as history shows, are violent creatures. Some of us engage in violence easily, and we’ve found lots of solutions to the problems of how to harm each other. There’s no reason to believe that we won’t keep harming each other in space. So, what would a murder investigation in that harsh environment look like? Tade Thompson gives us an answer to this question in Far from the Light of Heaven. This closed room mystery features a ship that arrives at its destination with about thirty passengers murdered. All humans aboard the ship should have been asleep. The ship’s AI reports that all sleep chambers are still closed. What happened? Far from the Light of Heaven has an interesting answer.

Far from the Light of Heaven was not what I expected it to be. I thought it was going to be a space opera, but it’s not. Heaven is a closed room mystery set in space, and it’s excellent. The story begins with Michelle “Shell” Campion, the first officer of the Ragtime. Shell’s training for her job as the first officer, which turns out to be a redundant job. Ragtime is not just a ship; it’s an AI housed in a ship. Its job is to transport sleeping humans from Earth to the distant colony planet Bloodroot. Shell comes from a space-faring family and decides to skip the traditional NASA route and go straight into space as part of the private sector. Her job will be as backup in case of AI malfunction. In Shell’s world, AI’s don’t malfunction; so, in reality, her job is to sleep for the travel time from Earth to Bloodroot. Wake up for a bit. Go back to sleep, and travel back to Earth. Easy peasy. Except when Ragtime arrives at Bloodroot, Shell awakens to find thirty-ish passengers dead and the AI reduced to a more primitive state. Rasheed Fin, a disgraced repatriotator, lives on Bloodroot and is trying to get his job back. While tinkering with 3D printed weapons that he makes, Fin receives a call. He is to fly up to Ragtime to investigate what is happening. Joining him will be an Artificial, Salvo, that he’s worked with in the past. Salvo is an artificial human being; an AI in a bipedal body. The two travel to space to meet Shell. It seems someone woke up before the scheduled time and began killing. That someone is still on the ship because where else would one go in space. Fin and Salvo look for the killer suspecting everyone on board, even Shell, who has to keep the ship running and in orbit around Bloodroot.

Far from the Light of Heaven is a close, third person point of view novel set mostly on a ship in space. It does travel to other locations like Bloodroot, the Space Station Lagos, and even Earth. Most of the story takes place inside the ship’s hull, and there’s lots of action there. One of my favorite early bits comes from Shell seeing a wolf roaming around the ship despite there being no wolves on the passenger or shipping manifest. She begins to wonder if it’s a hallucination or if something from the special projects portion of the ship got loose. The answer is better than either of those questions.

Thompson wrote a novel filled with interesting ideas. In the afterword, he says he wanted to set his story in a space that was derived from the actual experiences of astronauts rather than the tropes that make up SFF. Space is a stress filled place, and Thompson does a great job of writing about them. Far from the Light of Heaven treats space similarly to how The Expanse series treats it. Thompson tried to ground as much of the physics in reality as possible; he also went beyond just physics to deal with the psychological stresses. Shell throughout the book stresses the need for routines, and this is something that isn’t given much thought in space fiction. There will be no diurnal cycle in space. The sun doesn’t rise or set. It’s either visible because you’re in a local system or it’s too distant for useable amounts of light to travel to you. Scheduled routines will be necessary for humans to maintain sanity and be able to operate in that environment. Thompson’s inclusion of habitability aspects made me love this book.

Artificial Intelligence

There’s a lot going on in Far from the Light of Heaven, and Thompson’s use of AI stuck with me. For the later part of the book, I can’t stop thinking about an AI’s action and what it means for that field of study. It doesn’t seem like the AI questions were the focus of the book; nonetheless, Thompson raises some interesting issues that go against SF tropes with AI. I’m of two minds about a few of these issues, which means this book was a success. I enjoy when books make me think deeper about a subject. Thompson has done that here; I’ll be thinking about his AI for quite a while.

Pacing

The pacing of Far from the Light of Heaven felt off for me. To be clear, this could just be a ME issue. Pacing is always a subjective quality. It will vary from person to person. With that caveat out of the way, I felt the book just didn’t have a consistent rhythm. I think it moved too fast for me in a few sections where I would have liked to sit in the moment. This speed meant that I missed some information. I had to go back and reread paragraphs to make the connection from one page the next. Again, this might be an issue with me and not the book. As always with subjective reviews, your mileage may vary.

Conclusion

Tade Thompson’s Far from the Light of Heaven is a wonderful locked room mystery in Space. Thompson has built an interesting world that I hope he – and I – explore more of in the future.
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This novel is a space opera, but I think it's probably better defined as a murder mystery, in a locked room scenario. But the murder is super sci fi and the locked room is a space ship.

A ship full of colonists enters a 10 year cryosleep journey to their destination. Everything's automated, they go through multiple jump gates, and when they arrive at a colony named Bloodroot, the captain, a woman named Shell (Michelle Campion), wakes up and discovers a bunch of people have been gruesomely murdered. The ship's AI, Ragtime, is uncooperative, possibly damaged.

She has no idea what happened, or who (or what) did the murdering. The ship is quarantined because the colony Bloodroot doesn't know what happened and doesn't want to allow contagion on their planet.

Bloodroot sends an investigator, or rather a "repatriator", named Rasheed Fin to the ship. The Lagos Space Station governor, Lawrence, is also involved. Lagos had some responsibility for the ship during its transit of a jump gate. He had previously worked with Shell's father, a famous astronaut, so he's personally invested in helping Shell. He heads out to the Ragtime, with his daughter, who might be partly alien.

So we have a bunch of vulnerable people on a ship where a murderer is still on the loose, and they don't know how or why any of this is happening! And then a wolf appears out of nowhere!

I really enjoyed the core of this book. This is a great story for people who enjoy classic murder mysteries and detective fiction (it was inspired by The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe). I love a good mystery in space, and when I picked this book up for all the right keywords, I wasn't disappointed. It's about a claustrophobic, baffling mystery, but in space, where all the complications and stressors are increased.

I also found the worldbuilding, and the hints of history, to be very interesting. I really hope this is the beginning of a series, or that Tade Thompson writes more in this world, because I think he set up a lot of fascinating events and technology, and he could go even deeper.

But I'm going to admit I felt some disappointment with the depth of this story.

I felt there was a disconnect between character development and the worldbuilding and the actual plot. The worldbuilding didn't inform the plot and actions as much as I expected it to. For example - Fin is supposed to be a prodigy investigator, but I didn't feel like he discovered any answers. Did he have any clever ideas or deductions, or did he just wallow in his head and survive long enough for revelations to appear?

Or what about the jump gates? I didn't understand how they worked, how they were controlled, or who commanded them. Then there's a huge decision involving a jump gate. It was supposed to be momentous but I didn't understand that part of the worldbuilding enough to feel why it mattered.

But here, things just kind of "are". And while it all makes sense and is internally consistent, I didn't think the sum was greater than the parts. So, what this book does well, in my opinion, is the murder mystery in space. Who did it, and how did they do it, and why? You get satisfactory answers. But beyond that, it's perhaps an atypical space opera novel that could have had meatier character development and better build up to the "aha!" moments.

On the whole, I find Thompson's books to be intriguing, and with a different flavor from other science fiction today, which is why I'm always happy to pick them up.
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Overall, I did really enjoy this book and I give it 3.5 stars rounded up. 

Thompson's writing, on its own, is outstanding. From the very first page I had trouble putting this book down and, for a novel that can be tech heavy in parts, it is a very quick read. 

At its heart, this book is your traditional locked room mystery, but nothing about it feels traditional. The pacing and the management of what information is released when (so important for mysteries) is top notch. The majority of the characters, individually, were also wonderfully fleshed out and felt like real people you could actually meet. Further, I really appreciated the ending of the book. Thompson does a fantastic job of wrapping up all of the loose ends of the actual story, while at the same time not compromising his messy, very human characters. 

Honestly, there was a thing here or there I could nitpick at, but the only truly significant criticism I have for the book is about how some of the interpersonal relationships developed. Without getting into spoilers, some of the relationships, or moments thereof, just rang false. This is a book that runs at a break-neck speed and takes place over only a handful of days. So there were times where the characters felt, not so much overly intimate (that is understandable given the stress levels the entire time - brothers in arms and all that) but overly knowledgeable of, and established,with each other. There was one relationship in particular that was overly developed within that time frame. There was even a long flashback near the end of the book that made me think "okay, WHEN could this have even happened?" It just felt so out of place. 

But even with that, I still got out of bed at quarter to 1 in the morning to go get Rosewater and fought myself about ordering books 2 &3 of the trilogy immediately. If you like fast paced SF or just a good ol' fashioned locked room mystery, I definitely recommend picking this one up.
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I received an ARC of Far From the Light of Heaven from Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. 

This is a tricky book to review. Far From the Light of Heaven is a sci-fi thriller dressed up as a sci-fi mystery (the short, sharp chapters will keep you turning pages); the sparse writing style is distinctly flavorless, almost artificial (but in a good way?); there are (arguably) sprinklings of the supernatural; and it ends on a murky, discordant note that left me dissatisfied and yet pleasantly discomforted. I can’t stop thinking about it because I can’t quite figure it out, and I don’t think I ever will, and I don’t want to. Far From the Light of Heaven is like a half-healed wound. 

Michelle “Shell” Campion is overtrained and overqualified as first mate of the colony ship Ragtime—it is her first time in the field, so to speak, although the ship itself is controlled by an AI. But when Ragtime arrives at its destination, Michelle wakes and discovers that thirty-one of the one thousand sleeping passengers are missing, and the AI has been stripped of its higher functions. The investigation soon involves detective Rasheed Fin and his artificial companion Salvo, Michelle’s uncle Lawrence Biz, and Lawrence’s half-alien daughter Joké. 

I was glad to know going in to Far From the Light of Heaven (from reading other reviews) that it was not a mystery, in the sense that it does not give you enough information to figure out what is happening before the book itself provides those answers. This is a thriller; Thompson is more interested in propelling you along from one page to the next than in creating a puzzle for you to solve. This was not a problem for me, but I can imagine some readers being frustrated that Far From the Light of Heaven is not the genre they thought it was, so I do encourage you to approach this reading experience with appropriate expectations. Don’t try to solve it. Enjoy the ride. 

That said, I was enraptured from beginning to end. The plot kicks in quickly and every twist tantalizingly promises another dose of the unexpected in the next chapter—and let me tell you, this book goes places. It gets weirder and weirder and weirder, but it never becomes unsatisfying or fractures its own internal logic. Thompson cracks open the door to a vast and unknowable world; I imagine pressing my face to that sliver of light, eager to see what lies beyond, my thoughts running wild with possibilities. But I do not want the door opened any farther, because the thrill of not knowing offers a unique pleasure unmatched by passing over the threshold. 

The sparse cast of characters is distinct and evocative. Far From the Light of Heaven is a book which neither demands nor delivers a great deal of depth when it comes to its characters, but Michelle, Rasheed, Salvo, Lawrence, and Joké are sharply sketched and go through simple but satisfying arcs. Campion’s untested competence and Fin’s world weariness create a winning dynamic, with Michelle’s uncle Larry providing warmth and Salvo humor amidst the high-wire tension of the Ragtime mystery. Joké is a wild card, her non-human heritage infusing the book with an alien biology and culture and a delicious air of “anything-can-happen.” 

The two aspects of the book which I suspect will be most divisive are its writing style and its ending. There is an artificial quality to Thompson’s prose here, a sort of plainness which would typically make me recoil, but he makes it work—the simplicity of the style makes moments of dry humor pop off the page, and it effectively captures the life-or-death stakes of the story and the workmanlike attitude of the characters. Given my preference for prose with just a bit of stylistic flavor, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading Far From the Light of Heaven.

The ending is abrupt and a bit awkward, but it too works (or at least it did for me)—I found myself not clamoring for a sequel, even though I would like to see more of this world and these characters, but rather reflecting on how on life rarely exhibits the clarity and the cleanliness of narrative fiction. This is why I compared Far From the Light of Heaven to a half-healed wound: it leaves its characters in a world whose conflict has spiraled beyond the scope of their control, abandoning them in the nebulous space of trauma which is receding into the distance but remains unresolved. An ending like this may not be to your taste, but it keeps echoing in my brain like an unexpected note in a piece of music. I can’t stop thinking about Far From the Light of Heaven.
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Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson

Pros: interesting characters, great world-building, unique

Cons: 

AIs fly ships, and AIs have never failed in flight.

When first mate Michelle ‘Shell’ Campion is woken after the last bridge-jump to the Bloodroot colony, 10 years into her mission, she finds the starship Ragtime’s AI reduced to its basic operating system and 31 colonists missing from their sleeping pods. This is not the way the now acting captain foresaw her first mission going. 

Bloodroot sends an investigator in answer to Shell’s distress call to find out what’s happening on the quarantined ship, but murder is just the start of the mysteries he uncovers there.

The world-building is great. While most of the action takes place on Ragtime, I loved Lagos station and learning about the Lambers. I also appreciated that the human characters were considerate towards the AI, even asking what pronouns they prefer.

The plot begins with the mystery of how the colonists died, but that’s quickly overshadowed by the weirdest series of events as things on Ragtime quickly spiral out of control. You’re not going to figure out ‘who dunnit’, or foresee any of the other twists that come completely out of left field, but the ending explains why everything happened, which I greatly appreciated.

The pacing can be on the slow side at times, reflecting the actualities of space travel and communication. Having said that, the characters never have enough time to solve a problem before the next one comes up, making the story feel claustrophobic, rushed, and tense.

The characters are intriguing and unusual. Shell is calm and collected even under the worst pressure. Fin hates space though he’s excited to be practicing his trade again after screwing up his last assignment. Joké is… unique and kind of fun. 

This is a different kind of science fiction novel, something the author mentions in an afterword at the end of the book. So if you want something outside the norm give this a try.
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Thank you NetGalley and Orbit for a copy of the eArc of Tade Thompson's Far from the Light of Heaven. The Ragtime is taking a new batch of colonists to Bloodroot,. A planet which lacks much of space program wanting to avoid the clogged space of Earth. Enter the prodigal daughter of Earth's space program and first time captain of Ragtime. She is over trained for what is expected of her as the AI will pilot the ship from Earth orbit through wormhole gates until it arrives in Bloodroot orbit. However, this training is really put to the test when she is awoken in Bloodroot orbit with alarm notifications blaring. She soon finds herself on a derelict space ship with 1000 colonists to protect. This novel is a great blend of Tade Thompson's inventiveness, characters, and uneasiness in the Rosewater Trilogy and the horror of the Molly Southborne duology.
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One surefire way to get me to pick up a book is by telling me it’s a locked-room murder mystery. And if it’s set in space? Well, then I’m sold twice over. That’s the premise of Tade Thompson’s new book, Far from the Light of Heaven, out 10/26. Mild spoilers follow.

The story begins with Michelle “Shell” Campion, the top-ranking human on interstellar vessel Ragtime, en route to recently-settled human colony Bloodroot. Along with a thousand other souls, she was in suspended animation for the long journey, until she’s awakened by the ship’s malfunctioning AI. She then finds that the ship has reached its destination in orbit around Bloodroot, but also finds a grisly scene of mass murder. Thirty-one passengers were killed and mutilated during the ten-year trip.

Soon enough the Ragtime receives help from the planetside colony, in the form of investigator Rasheed Fin and his cyborg partner Salvo. Also responding to the scene is Shell’s father’s old friend Lawrence Biz and his half-alien daughter Joké, both hailing from Lagos space station, the last waypoint on Ragtime’s journey to Bloodroot. Despite (or maybe because of) the grisly circumstances that bring them together, the makeshift crew becomes a found family of a sort.

It’s immediately evident that the pile of dead bodies is just the beginning, and soon they have to contend with airlock malfunctions, containment failures, rogue service bots, strange creatures, and a ship AI that seems determined to make their lives harder. Problems escalate and cascade into one another, and the story quickly expands from a murder mystery into a bit of space horror thriller with some VanderMeerian imagery and elements. The shift doesn’t come as a surprise (it’s very well-orchestrated), but the plot’s tensions turned out to be a lot less understated than I’d expected when I picked it up. That’s not a failure of the story at all, just a mismatch between reader expectation and marketing, perhaps. The action is pulse-pounding and, more importantly, deepens the initial mystery; in combination, they’re a kind of twin-engine that propelled me to finish the book so quickly.

I also enjoyed Mr. Thompson’s vision of space: it’s very Afrofuturist and shows space exploration and off-Earth settlement in a non-imperialist fashion. Bloodroot is unlike many of the new planet colonies I’ve seen. The story also has a sharp critique of capitalism that is highly relevant in an age where more and more of the 1% set their sights toward space. Overall, Far from the Light of Heaven is a thrilling and terrifying journey, one that I’m glad I got to go on.
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Earlier this year, I read my first book from Tade Thompson, the Nommo Award-winning Rosewater (full review). While it didn’t click for me in every aspect, the writing was consistently compelling, and the story showed no lack of ambition. So when the ARC for his murder mystery/space opera Far from the Light of Heaven came available, I immediately put in a request. And, while I didn’t have the reading experience I would’ve expected from the pitch, it was an excellent read! 

Far from the Light of Heaven is billed as a locked-room murder mystery in space, but that’s just the jumping-off point. An astronaut wakes up after ten years of slumber to find the ship’s AI pilot malfunctioning and thirty of the passengers brutally murdered—despite every human onboard having been asleep. To help investigate the mystery, she enlists the help of an investigator (with the requisite checkered past) from her destination colony. But when continued malfunctions begin to threaten them both, solving the mystery takes a backseat to trying to escape with their lives. 

Like I said, it’s the set-up of a murder mystery, but it quickly evolves into a fascinating story that doesn’t feel much like a murder mystery at all. The question of how the murders were accomplished is obvious—at least at a high level of description—and we don’t meet enough potential suspects (or arguably any potential suspects) to be invested in the question of who committed them. The more interesting questions are that of why the murders were committed, how to avoid more bodies in the chaotic aftermath, and how the crime will affect the world outside this single ship. 

Those are big questions, and answering them sees the novel jump through a bevy of perspectives, with varied viewpoints taking us from the ship itself to Earth to its destination colony of Bloodroot to the Lagos station that had last inspected it before disaster struck. And Thompson handles them with aplomb, with every point-of-view section compelling even if the perspective character itself is unfamiliar. And, because it’s Thompson, he’s not afraid to add some weirdness, with the wolf of the cover making an early appearance and the inclusion of a mystical alien race with strange effects on human psyche. 

And it works, as long as you’re not expecting a traditional murder mystery. The lack of potential perpetrators prevents the ultimate reveal from having that combination of surprise and clever foreshadowing that makes mystery conclusions satisfying. But as a sci-fi tale of sabotage aboard a ship, with reverberations that threaten to rewrite the existing order? It’s excellent, with a collection of flawed and compelling characters, plenty of crises to keep the plot moving briskly, enough POV switches to explore far-flung consequences, and a fantastically balanced ending that gives closure where it’s needed but doesn’t try to resolve every question about what will happen next. It’s entertaining, emotional, and has plenty to say about people and the structures we create. For those whose past experience with Thompson came in the Rosewater trilogy, Far from the Light of Heaven has the same clipped prose style but a little more focus and grounding in the story, despite the abundance of perspectives. If you enjoy his writing and don’t mind a little weirdness in your sci-fi, it’s a winner. 

Recommended if you like: crises in spaceships, seeing how the main action affects myriad characters in different places and roles, a clipped but engaging prose style, sci-fi with a hint of mysticism. 

Overall rating: 17 of Tar Vol’s 20. Five stars on Goodreads.
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“So many ways to die on the Ragtime, so little time.”

If you are looking for Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue in space then Tade Thompson’s latest, Far From the Light of Heaven, has you covered. Michelle “Shell” Campion is eager to rack up some space miles with a ceremonial captaincy shepherding 1,000 colonists through the bridge gate system from station to station to their final destination, the distant colony of Bloodroot. Her partner is the newly minted Ragtime AI who will handle all essential functions and handshaking with the stations between Earth and Bloodroot. Shell can sleep through the whole thing. And she does. Waking ten years later in orbit around Bloodroot with alarms going off and multiple fatalities among the sleeping passengers. And when she finally discovers the horrific scene where the bodies are being stored, 2 1/2 of them are missing.

That’s just the opening for a fast and furious ride where Thompson likes reminding us that “space wants to kill you, always.” He finds quite a few ways to pile time bomb upon time bomb while Shell and a few others do their best to solve the mystery. Rasheed Fin is a disgraced investigator sent up to Ragtime from Bloodroot along with his Artificial named Salvo. Lawrence Biz had worked with Shell’s father and comes out from Lagos Colony, Ragtime’s last port of call before Bloodroot who are contractually responsible until the AI can signal it has successfully arrived at its destination. There’s Larry’s adopted daughter, a half alien lamber and half human named Joké who we first meet as she is trying to communicate with a mold colony on Lagos Station by reading it poetry. 

Where the characters hold up and are interesting to follow as they connect with each other and wrestle with puzzling, life threatening situations that just keep piling up, the worldbuilding feels a little fragile at times. We get all the basics: MaxGalactix is an enormous private space agency run by Yan Maxwell. Lagos Colony is being threatened by their security team when they come in search of their illustrious lost CEO and Founder. There’s Dreamstate that seems to function like a limitless virtual reality simulation for the sleeping passengers in transit. Maybe it is okay to only get the simplest of broad strokes as it keeps the action moving along at a furious pace, but some readers may long to learn more about all of it so that the payoff moments feel more impactful. 

What is most confusing is that at times later in the book it feels like some important scenes are missing like they just got cut out by the editing process and didn’t quite make it back in leaving some strange gaps between some of the scenes on the page. However, this review is only based upon an ARC copy and the final version is obviously subject to change. If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller mystery in space, you need look no farther than this for your reading list.

** Thank you to Orbit Books and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest, unbiased review **
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