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Sweep of Stars

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My review is available to read on-line in the March/April 2023 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact..

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Unbalanced in regards to characterization, plot, and, pacing. After reading Broaddus's Pimp My Airship, I was ready for an Afrocentric adventure set in space. I got a bit of that, but also added extras, maybe too much at times, like art and culture that took the place of other kinds of setting development... I'm speaking specifically about the poetry that tries to compliment the plot, but without a strong plot or characters, the poems fell flat. And the POVs were overwhelming: too many and too different.
A real mixed bag here.

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4 Stars!

The first (and only) time I had read Maurice Broaddus was a long time ago in his team up with Wrath James White in Orgy of Souls. I knew this book was not one of his typical books and always wanted to give his solo work a try. I just never got around to it for one reason or another. When I saw Sweep of Stars, the first book in the Astra Black series, I thought this would be the perfect time to give him and read and see what kind of a story he would craft on his own.

The Muungano empire had started with the dream of utopia. As it spread across the solar system, the dream was to form an empire of city states that was free from war and oppression. The leaders had a vision, and the scientists had the technology to make it happen. The empire spread from Earth to Titan and the realization of the mission seemed to be within reach. What they did not have, though, was control of the human mind and will which harbors a destructive urge. Even as the empire surged away from Earth, it found the evil of its past reaching out to block the future.

The Muungano face challenges on multiple fronts. When a black hole is discovered in orbit around Saturn, the threats to the new empire begin to come to the forefront. Its beloved leader is slain, and terrorists begin to attack on multiple fronts. The young leaders of empire scramble to find a way to not only hold things together but to lead their people forward. With the universe at stake, will the ideology and poetry of the Muungano be enough to escape the greed and exploitation of O.E. that it arose from? The answer is not clear and the outcome unclear, but the Muungano will never cease to work toward a brighter future for all mankind.

Sweep of Stars is a big book, or at least it feels that way. Broaddus sets out to build a world full of mysticism and poetry as well as science. Broaddus weaves his Afrofuturist perspective throughout the story as the Muungano empire strives to build its base upon its culture while trying to leave the dominant culture of Earth behind. It is a vision that speaks to the social issues that face our world today but also promise a glimpse of a brighter future while acknowledging that this future will be difficult to obtain. The grand scale of the novel almost seems overwhelming sometimes but it keeps moving forward smoothly as Broaddus sets up not only this novel but the ones that are to follow. It is not an easy book to read and feels longer than it really is with the interweaving of multiple storylines and characters that forces the reader to think about the story in order to keep up. This is not light reading to pass a couple hours but an intricate story that weaves its way back and forth as it continues to grow.

The novel is very character-focused and that causes it to slow down at times. Instead of pushing the plot forward, there is a lot of time dedicated to the characters and fleshing them out to the fullest. This causes Sweep of Stars to move slowly at times but it could also make the series stronger as it moves into the second novel. The constant changing of focus between characters give the story a nontraditional style that makes it more difficult to read as does the interweaving of the stories and poems the characters put forth. There were times in which I just wanted to move along instead of getting more pontification for one character or another. Broaddus, though, proves to be a master as putting sentences together so that these interludes feel less of an intrusion and more of a momentary diversion that eventually comes back together with the main narrative. Sweep of Stars is masterfully written and never boring despite its slow pace. I am happy to have finally given him a chance and was rewarded with a surprisingly beautiful story that felt almost visual through his strong prose and left me looking forward to the next book. I do not think that Sweep of Stars is for every reader but it is recommended for those who do not mind putting in a bit of work to unwrap the elaborate puzzle that Broaddus puts on the page.

I would like to thank Tor Books and NetGalley for this review copy. Sweep of Stars is available now.

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Broaddus's plotting is fast paced, the people playing part in this story are interesting, and I was on the edge of my seat to see how the story would end. The author also hints at vastly advanced technologies, but wastes very little time trying to explain any of it. If you enjoy stories that toss you in at the deep end without first subjecting you to infodumps, you'll be happy with Sweep of Stars. Truly a bright story with a beautifully created world.

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Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus

This appears to be a dystopian novel. I never got a clear picture on that. Sometime in the future society is split apparently along racial lines but I’m sure of either. I found the book confusing. Sometimes interesting with the drop troops but the in-depth sociology was less than exciting. The jump gate seemed more exciting than it was. Overall, I didn’t care for the book, it may be the bees knees (very dated reference) to somebody but not for me.

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I downloaded a pre-publication copy from NetGalley. I tried hard, even re-reading some sections, but could not finish. It just isn't my cup of science fiction tea.

The multiple points of view, going from first- to third-person, sometimes even second-person for certain characters, didn't bother me to the extent it did other Goodreads reviewers. What did were the endlessly long, action-less conversations between characters, and the lavishly detailed descriptions of Muungano costumes, hairstyles, and court manners. The author's use of unexplained African-rooted terms was a minor problem; most of those terms became clear in context, rather like the nautical language in a Patrick O'Brian novel.

The author's doting on African culture, customs, and manners, which overwhelms plot and narrative at times, feels like an attempt to school non-Black readers — fair enough considering all the white European culture Maurice Broaddus has had crammed down his throat — but still feels, at least to me, like being schooled. It starts with the first family name in the cast list at the beginning of the book:

<img src="" width="400" height="327" alt="36C64506-275D-4C0D-BEA8-6B7DBD260F69">

You can probably imagine why I took a screen shot rather than type it out. Although I may save it for use as an unbreakable password.

The science in this science fiction novel is never explained, to me a major fault. Just one example: the modified and enhanced human warriors of the HOVA team encounter alien life on a planet on the other side of a wormhole. Somehow — and this was one of the chapters I re-read to make sure — the HOVA team is instantly able to converse with aliens in a previously-unknown, not-even-human language, with no explanation as to how that might be possible. Earlier, aboard the spaceship transiting the wormhole, Broaddus describes living conditions on the ship, a settlement of kraals spread out in traditional African village fashion, leaving readers to posit either a massive spinning drum or artificial gravity. Either way, he needs to tell the reader how it is the kraals, along with their human occupants, aren't just floating around. See how reading and watching The Expanse has spoiled me for other forms of science fiction?

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I'm a big fan of Maurice Broaddus' writings in other genres (horror, steamfunk, urban fantasy, YA), so I was really looking forward to reading his science fiction. For the most part, this was an enjoyable read. He switches viewpoints between characters from chapter to chapter, and while most are written in third person, two are in first person and one is in second person, which I found disconcerting. The characters can be hard to follow at times. Overall, though, this is a novel well worth reading, and I think this has the potential to be the first novel in a grand epic series. I was glad to read a space opera from an Afrofuturist viewpoint.

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Sweep of Stars is the first book in a new space opera trilogy by Maurice Broaddus. It explores the struggles of the Muungano empire to remain independent of their home planet and live up to their ideals of a utopian community of city-states stretching from Mars to Titan.

When a wormhole gate is discovered in Muungano space, they face not only intrigues from beyond the wormhole, but from the Earth they left behind. Treachery unfolds throughout the empire, and fates are left in the balance when Sweep of Stars ends. It is definitely a cliff-hanger.

I struggled with this book, mainly due to the changes in point of view. Not because there are many characters, but because Broaddus chose to explore different approaches to storytelling for different characters. It may not bother anyone else, but it was jarring for me, and I had to readjust after every chapter. Broaddus switches from first person point of view, to third person, to second, and back, depending on the character. I’ve never experienced that before, and I didn’t like it.

I did love, however, that he uses the title’s phrase, ‘sweep of stars” several times throughout the book. I found that delightful. I also loved the characters themselves, and cared about their fates. The plot is engaging, the writing has depth and beauty, and the concept is lovely.

So while this book wasn’t particularly my favorite, it has much to recommend it.

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This book was so hard to read! I was hoping for something fast-paced but instead this was a slow crawl that I had a hard time understanding. While I expected a big cast I didn't expect multiple povs. And I felt this book fell into the same trap many multi pov stories do where the voices all sounded a like yet at the same time I felt so connection to the characters.

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Afronto la reseña de este libro con sensaciones contradictorias, ya que he de valorar por una parte el atractivo innegable de las ideas expuestas pero en el otro lado de la balanza he de situar la dificultad que he tenido para leerlo.

Sweep of Stars es un libro ambicioso, la primera parte de una trilogía de ciencia ficción escrita con unas raíces africanas muy presentes en toda la obra. El escenario es fascinante y la cultura que se nos describe no puede ser más atractiva. El problema, a mi entender, está en la ejecución.

Los numerosos puntos de vista están también escritos utilizando distintas personas, y aunque parece que la segunda persona del singular está de moda últimamente, hay que saber utilizarla muy bien, como por ejemplo en Ogres. No contento con esto, Maurice Broaddus también utiliza la segunda persona del plural en una nueva vuelta de tuerca que no parece del todo justificada. Las muchas voces utilizadas en la narración nos ofrecen la pluralidad de la que hace gala la organización espacial descrita en el libro, pero en ocasiones resulta confusa y hace perder un poco de coherencia a la historia. También es posible que este problema sea exclusivamente mío, ya que a estos cambios se añade el uso de terminología propia que me hacía tener que recurrir muy a menudo al glosario, por lo que se rompía un poco la continuidad de la lectura. De nuevo, esta puede ser mi percepción y que otra persona con mayores conocimientos de Diáspora africana no tuviera tanta necesidad de muletas como a mí me han hecho falta.

Los temas tratados son tan variados como interesantes. Desde el fanatismo religioso a las posibles organizaciones políticas, desde el recuerdo de la esclavitud a la exploración de agujeros de gusano, desde las conspiraciones políticas al amor y la preocupación de una madre por su hijo enfermo… Son temas universales, pero aún así el autor consigue añadirles una pátina de originalidad por la situación en la que se desarrollan.

Estamos hablando de una novela colosal que puede marcar un hito en el afrofuturismo, y de la que me gustaría leer la continuación, espero que con más conocimiento que me permita sumergirme con mayor facilidad en la lectura.

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The remarkable Sweep of Stars, first volume of the Astra Black trilogy by Maurice Broaddus, begins with a naming ceremony, one that draws together the community and traditions of Muungano, the new civilization in space fought for by people of Africa and its diaspora. And what a civilization it is – based on the Moon, Mars and Titan and rooted in community values quite opposite to those on Original Earth, which is still in the grip of power building, exploitation of resources and religious extremism. In Muungano, poetry and song infuse the minds of the characters, visual artwork is everywhere and the clothes people wear celebrate their individuality as well as their family colors and station among their peers.

The naming ceremony for the young leader, Amachi Adisa, brings out all her conflicting emotions, self-doubt, rivalries and excitement at accepting a new level of responsibility in her family and community. It is a skillful portrait of a strong young woman, but that is followed immediately by a reminder of the harsher reality of life for Muungano.

An attack at the embassy on Original Earth throws the governing council or Ijo into turmoil.
Sweep of Stars moves from this brilliant opening, that dramatically weaves together many of the key dimensions of this new civilization still maturing only seventy years after its founding, to a complex series of events that test the ability of several key leaders and institutions to survive under new attacks.
By the midpoint of the book the story flows powerfully through several dimensions of action, relationships and politics. A bomb nearly kills the Muungano elder visiting OE, a child sickens from a mysterious illness, a leader suddenly dies, another elder disappears while on board a space ship, a troop of Muungano warriors come under fierce attack on a strange planet. There are multiple mysteries, and the search for answers pushes at the limits of the community spirit so carefully cultivated in this world. Is Original Earth trying to undermine Muungano from within or seek outright war?
The Muungano culture may prize dreaming about the future and what it should be but it’s also a culture that has fought to be free of Original Earth and its oppressive ideologies and internalized colonial attitudes of superior and inferior peoples. Broaddus’ world is full of hip-hop, jazz and references to dozens of heroes of the African and African-American diaspora experience. But these all help anchor the characters who are searching out their own futures and doing it as fiercely and as well as they can.
So the story of Sweep of Stars is about a culture of the future but told through the powerful experiences and confrontations of individuals struggling to understand their own agency. Ever mindful of their debt to the past, their imposter syndromes, their undeniable talents and their sheer force to live a life on their own terms, they struggle not only to define themselves but to protect their new tradition of community that gives them full scope to be who they are.

Broaddus is the kind of writer who puts everything he wants to put into his story and manages to make it all work and flow together into a compelling whole. It’s inspiring to dream with him of what the future could hold (and also kind of damning that the world as it is falls so far short of what it might be). The Astra Black series promises to clear a wide field for dreaming and action that can be truly transformative. Sweep of Stars is the brilliant beginning of a major series.

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