Cover Image: Exordia

Exordia

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This is review of the NetGalley-provided ARC.

The overall thought I have for this book is that fans who are more familiar with the author's broader works will be down for the ride but fans of the Masquerade series exclusively may approach the book with different expectations. I would suggest the latter group to keep an open mind, because all of the hard-hitting emotions and characters are still there. This has the classic, situational depth that is characteristic of Seth Dickinson with a completely different setting and societal expectations. The stakes are simultaneously personal and existential-- that is to say, the personal and existential stakes are actually the same through the use of the early-established notion that there are universal, fated relationships.

There are times where the pacing is paused in a manner I understand as necessary to actually give a story the amount of depth it needs to explore all the angles of a scenario that's presented, so I wasn't bothered by it. This is a situation where military-research camps formed by multiple nations interact around a central plot point, with each party is itself made up of individuals acting and being acted upon. The ability for Dickinson to inject tension and character into scenes consisting of only a few paragraphs was a crafting highlight.

The protagonists and antagonists are multi-layered, with new aspects of themselves still being uncovered close to the end. Even though the book was a 400 page chonker of a read, I was compelled to continue. I'm pretty sure I read the entire book within the span of a day and I am still wanting more of these characters. Ssrin is a highlight, being a mix of deeply alien and intimately familiar that made me always look for the next thing she will do.

I desperately want to see more of this world. This reads more like the beginning of a brilliant series, not just on the protagonists presented but to explore the greater world involved. Lovely for fans of the Machineries of Empire Trilogy and, oddly enough, Homestuck.

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Reading Exordia was almost a feverdream experience. It's weird, resists classification, and asks a ton of hard questions from the beginning. It is a first contact novel, a military spec thriller, a body horror novel...etc. I could keep throwing genres at it and still not convey what exactly it is. So I'm not going to try. Instead, here's how it starts;

When Anna Sinjari, a Kurdish war orphan in the US, discovers an Alien, she finds that they are bound together somehow. After an unidentified object is found in her home country, Anna is thrown into a game between superaliens and governments while reckoning with a past she can't leave behind.

I finished Exordia in roughly two days. It's a hefty book, both in size and content but Dickinson's writing is masterful. But I didn't review it until now because I had some questions I needed to think about, some posed by the book and other by its premise and existence.

Craftwise, I'd say its fantastic. Sometimes a little too self indulgent with the extreme mathematics ramblings (i skimmed those sections) and revolting body horror (that was just my thing) but overall, a very compelling read. Its a good book, so if you are reading this review looking for a sign to start it, I'd say yes, go ahead. If you want a teaser, you can read Seth Dickinson's story in the Shimmer magazine, Anna Saves Them All, from which he expanded this novel.
But I'm more interested in discussing what Exordia sets out to do.

Exordia's attempt, I believe, is to use the novel's greater conflict to explore the military industrial complex of the US. I'm still not sure how successful it is in that regard. Make no mistake, it does rake it over coals but is it ever enough? I've been also thinking whose story this is to tell, to choose a perspective of someone abused by the Empire by a denizen of the imperial core because it sounds like an interesting point of view, because it has teeth. Dickinson explores this in his novel too. He asks us about narratives and whose is considered more important, of the complicity of war crimes, and maths. I'm deducting a few stars for that because it was truly too much math for me.

Anyway, as you can see, I still don't have any answers. But the best part is, Exordia makes you think and for that reason, if you could bear the triggers, then I think you should read it.

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Exordia is about the trolley problem, explored to agonizing depth, and about space aliens, the question of free will and the fabric of reality, the military, colonialism, war, and genocide, through the eyes of characters who have been on both sides of the gun, finger on detonator, and are deeply traumatized. There is no way I can do justice to any of it here, but I can only try.

This is a "fun book" as a breather, in the author's words, to which I say I think your definition of "fun" is a little warped. What the fuck. But this is a really Funny book; snappy, full of wit and probing, scathing commentary. And it is full of rage.

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(ARC recieved from Netgalley)

The first few pages reminded me powerfully of John Scalzi. This mood lasted for about two chapters before The Tragedy Seth Dickinson began. I really really wanted to like this book more than I actually did. It has some fascinating concepts and some incredibly compelling characters! It has some of the best handling of memetic hazards I've seen in fiction! The prose is excellent, the imagery is vivid, it sparkles with moments of brilliant wit.

And yet.
The book has, for me, two really big flaws. First and foremost, it is miserable. You read the Baru Cormorant books? Take the grimmest parts of those, and double it. Then imagine this is pretty much the only mood the book sustains. The number of times anyone experiences positive emotions can practically be counted on your fingers, and it's exhausting.

This is exacerbated by the second problem, which is that it drags. The stakes are high. Apocalyptically high. There is a specified time limit. But the book feels slow. This is largely due to the author's decision to do an awful lot of POV switching, giving us multiple views of the same events. And in some ways, this is a great thing to do; it's part of what makes the characters so memorable and believable; we get their contrasting perspectives on the same events. The problem is that it also means that not a lot actually happens. And it feels bizarre to say that, because the things which do happen are A Lot, but the problem is that each event is dissected so minutely and thoroughly that by the time the next plot beat actually dropped I was heartily sick of reading about the previous one.

When I started the book, I was excited to finish it, because it had such promise and so many wonderful ideas. When I finished the book, I was fed up to the back teeth with it and glad it was over.
I can't call it bad, it's too fine a piece of writing for that, but I have to say I did not actually enjoy the experience overall.

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I think that anyone who picks up Exordia is going to be left a little bit bewildered at the sheer amount of things that happen in this book.

I mean that in a good way, but seriously, while I very much enjoyed most of my time with the novel I did let out a sigh of relief that I didn't have to juggle so many disparate ideas and concepts in my head anymore when I hit the final page. We're talking about a story here that deeply dives into plots about undercover aliens, military espionage, military sci-fi, what I am just going to call 'extreme math', something that I think is kind of like karmic narrative causality (???), alien space hell (which is fascinating), the very real history of how the United States betrayed the Kurds, trauma, and genocide. There is so much going on, and so many perspectives on what is happening that it is easy to be overwhelmed.

This book is an absolute wild ride, and Ssrin and Anna have become some of my favorite weird roommates in any book I've ever read, so this is a story well worth the effort of holding on and staying in the saddle for science fiction fans.

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I loved this, and have very little to say that isn’t spoilery, but it feels like Dickinson let go of some fear and just wrote without embarrassment. It starts with Anna, a victim of the Iraqi genocide against the Kurds, forced to commit atrocities of her own, living now in the US with no real hopes or dreams. Then the alien Sssrin comes, claiming that their stories match (which is a pretty bad sign, actually, and also that Sssrin explains that her entire species is doomed to hell). Then comes the EMP, and then the men with guns to take Anna back to her homeland, where an alien spaceship has appeared. It is about colonialism, and about how the world ending is not unusual for some humans, and also about physics and trolley problems and compromises and tragedies that are too big to comprehend and therefore humans (and aliens) can inflict them. I dunno, read it!

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Seth Dickinson has done it again! As a huge fan of the Baru Cormorant series, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from Exordia, with its vibrant yellow cover, but I knew it's one of my most anticipated upcoming books. Exordia certainly didn't disappoint - it's just the sort of clever sci-fi I love, deep and interesting, but without ever letting the complex ideas bog down the pacing. It deals with some very heavy and dark themes, but it's also fun, atmospheric, and dazzling - I've seen comparisons to Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, which is another favourite of mine, and I certainly agree that the two books have a lot of things in common. I'm quietly hoping for a sequel, because that ending felt like it left open more questions than it answered - in a good way.

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[ARC via NetGalley]

hi
Long time reader, first time reviewer here. Here's the short form of this review:
A fun and breezy yet often insightful and challenging sci-fi book tackling morality, mathematics and militarism. For fans of Ninefox Gambit, Blowback, Blindsight, the Milgram Experiment (?), the Unveiling texts, SCP Foundation type stuff, or books that are cool and good.

--

The longer form, being a big list of assorted thoughts and points in no particular order:

Compared to Traitor, this is definitely a punchier, breezier read, more rooted in modern day vernacular (though the book is not quite set in our current day). More direct with its references, more conversant with, like, Terminator than SomethingAwful posts about the fragility of horses.
It's a fun book, but/yet it's also a smart book. Lots of big ideas, especially around symmetries (narrative and mathematical), plus some interrogation of America's various interventions. But this is also a book about a weird artifact and space aliens from space who hate each other big time sloppy style.

I have long been a fan of Destiny's various lorebooks, especially Seth's work, but I haven't played Destiny in years at this point. I'm glad Exordia exists as a great example of Seth's sci-fi writing without being tied to a giant live service game mostly about putting myriad bullets into various of creatures. Exordia's moral universe is not the same as Destiny's, of course, but it has the advantage in not needing to reduced down to hard targets that a space wizard can throw orbs at.

This is definitely a Ninefox Gambit-core book, with lots of terminology and concepts that aren't immediately explained (and often riffing off mathematics, too). If you sit back and read the book, anything important will surely be revealed. I think most of the neoterminogies here have the desirable property of being built from recognisable parts, conveying a vibes outside the remit of the Oxford English Dictionary. My favourite of these terms is probably 'geashade' - derived from 'geas'+'shade' I assume. (Maybe even geas-hades). Serendure is another big one - 'serenity' + 'endure'? not sure. I love this sort of thing though.

On the characters: Anna is great, Ssrin is great, Khaje's like if Pinion scenes from Tyrant were a throughline through the whole book. Iruvage is a great terrible fucker. The US military guys also deserve to be put in a maze and observed as they run about... which they practically were, now that I think about it. This book has quite a lot of POVs but they all feel distinctive and refreshing in their own right.

The core mystery of the weird alien object also worked really well, I think. The main advantage of the many POVs, I think, is that you get to see events and interpretations from many different angles, constructing the truth through many tangents. This isn't really a Holmes story, and you're not likely to have a big "aha!" moment (unless you're a very particular kind of maths nerd, maybe), but the setup, tension and reveal here all make for one really compelling reading experience.

--

Some things that might be a vinegar in this particular stew, then, for sake of balance as such a thing is generally considered desirable:

Some parts in the middle of the book really do demand a lot of focus to keep track of what's going on; lots of POVs switching between several different timeframes. It's fun, but you really gotta be on the ball. I was never really lost as to who anyone was, or what their key motivations were, but sometimes I was a little fuzzy on timeframes of events here and there. Things do eventually resolve down to a smaller scope, but this is not a book to read distractedly.

The book is pretty heavy on body horror, more than anything in the Baru books I'd say (even the gory tumoury bio-parts in Tyrant). I'm not usually a huge fan of body horror personally, but I think it's generally put to interesting productive ends here, not just splatterhouse sanguinaria for spectacle. Still, it's definitely not an easy recommend to those who are faint of heart (or stomach).

You could read from end to end without any prior knowledge of mathematics or America's various military interventions, but I suspect you'll get more out of it if you're willing to do your own homework in a few places. I think taking a back seat and letting the book take you on a ride is not a bad approach, but you might miss that the book often combines neologism with actual real (if obscure) terminology. 'Jineology', for instance, isn't an invented word, but I did kinda think it was until I looked it up. (my spellchecker also doesn't recognise it...) A decent rule one could use; if an alien says something, it can be taken as something alien; but if a human says something you're unfamiliar with, then it may be worth a lookup. I think this is a useful approach not just for the book, but in general. Though if an alien is talking to you, you've got other problems probably. Especially if it's Iruvage.

The ending is satisfactory on its own, but I would really love to see a second book in this universe at some future point. I love the more and less esoteric philosophical bits in Destiny, and I think a sequel less weighed down by the Earth's gravity could really go some wild places. I could also read an entire book of Anna and Ssrin just being weird roommates.

--

Anyway, I will be buying this book with my own money day 1, and likely re-reading it; which is not something I usually do, but this book's worth it.
If five pieces of Exordia are assembled, I think we'll have a real winner in our hands. But this book is a worthy entry in the science fiction canon all on its own. Five stars.

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When I heard Seth Dickinson had written a sci-fi novel, I was intrigued. But Exordia was completely different and went far beyond my expectations. I can't say much about the plot without loading you up with spoilers, but yes to all the people making comparisons to Annihilation and alien invasion narratives. There's also military action, math, physics, metaphysics, and moral philosophy. This book goes hard on so many levels, and used the intense character desire/conflict relationships to keep me up at night reading far longer than this mortal body should have.

The prose sizzles and explodes. There are so many lines I wish I could quote here, from the ones that made me laugh aloud to the ones that felt like a knife in the gut. Readers who love some hard science and deep questions with their military action thrillers will enjoy this book a lot.

Thanks as always to TorDotCom for an e-ARC and thanks to Seth for bringing this entirely bonkers story to the world.

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I received a digital ARC of this book from Netgalley.

First thing first: The ending of this book is very clearly a vol.1 ending. I would wager a lot that there's at least one sequel to this book, otherwise why would you end there? (This has honestly become a huge pet peeve of mine. This is at least the third book that I read this year that ends its story abruptly, the exact way a book that needed to be twice as long would. I don't actually hate this! I just want to know it going in. This would easily be a 5 star book if it was marketed as 'part one of the Exordia series.' But I deduct a star for not bothering to end your story all the way, and then bate and switching me that I'm getting a complete story!)

**Deep Breath**

Otherwise this has all of the wonderful, complex, and well realized politics and characters that Dickinson created in the Baru Cormorant series. Dickinson makes some truly unique choices here, like setting this book in, I believe the Obama administration, although I just learned that it's an expansion of a short story, (which I have not read) so maybe that explains it.

Our main protagonist is a Kurdish refugee living in New York, Anna Sinjari, who is busily sabotaging her life and refusing to get therapy when she sees an alien. This is Ssrin, a Khai, who looks like a snake bodied person with multiple snakes for heads. Ssrin is involved in alien politics best described as Byzantine via H.R. Geiger. She needs Anna's help to retrieve a weapon that other aliens are willing to destroy the world for.

The other unexpected story element (really, none of this happens in a way you expect, but I'm focusing specifically on choices I have not seen made before) is (view spoiler)

There's some heavy, dark themes running through this book. There's a bunch of characters trying to justify, rationalize, and persuade others to their own moral choices, all of which are covered in blood. So much blood. This isn't feel good sci-fi, this is heavily military and bordering on nihilistic. In fact, it vibes in some interesting ways with another dark sci-fi novel I just read: Blindsight, by Peter Watts. Both seem to be playing with the idea that the universe is at best cold and indifferent, and worse (and possibly more likely) it is actively, virulently hostile to humanity.

Similar vibes: Alien, Fever House by Keith Rosson, maybe a splash of The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch
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Whoa.

Exordia is awe-inspiring, in the Old Testament sense of brilliance, admiration and dread. It's a very different book than the Masquerade series. It's filled with hilariously dark humor, intriguingly cutting insights about humanity, sci-fi technobabble, ideas that flit between fascinating and terrifying, and a villain who truly deserves the descriptor of Evil.

There's a lot in this novel, and I'm trying to avoid discussing any of it for fear of spoilers -- I enjoyed my time with Exordia so much that, if I start enthusing about it, I might not stop. As always Dickinson's prose is a joy to read: simple without being bland, complex without being overwhelming, and packed full of some of the most entertaining metaphors you'll find in a SF/F novel.

Exordia feels like what you might get if Peter Watts and Seth Dickinson had collaborated, which makes me just the audience for this novel. The ending demands a sequel, but I feel like Exordia might be lessened with one. It's a novel that never quite went the way I expected it to, but was obviously following a pattern, and feels like it couldn't have ended in any other way. It starts with an apartment in New York and elegantly spirals out into interstellar war -- and beyond. There are a lot of characters and all of them are rich and well-developed, although there's a part of me who found that Anna and Ssrin were the ones I was most interested in and missed them when they were absent.

It's been a long time since I read a book I've been unable to put down, one that has consumed my waking thoughts and distracted me from hobbies and work. Whatever flaws I can point to feel relatively minor. It does feel that the middle section of the book becomes a bit dense and unwieldy, not as easy to follow as what comes before or after (but without being impossible to follow) and some of the sci-fi and pop culture references felt a bit much (but most of them land with precision, and pay homage, I assume, to many of Dickinson's inspirations.) I expected the Battlestar Galactica reference. I did not expect the Evangelion one!

Exordia has shades of everything else Dickinson has written -- the Masquerade series, the lore of Destiny, Freespace: Blue Planet, and so on -- but refined to a wicked edge. It's a book I'm going to revisit a few times, but only once my mind has had some time to relax. I don't think it quite hits the highs of The Traitor Baru Cormorant, but I feel Dickinson is an author much more at ease in the sci-fi milieu which I think propels this novel to a five-star rating.

(Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review!)

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4.5 stars, rounded up. Not that I would change much if anything about it (although some parts in the middle did feel like an unending horrifying fever dream). Not because I wouldn't recommend it to everyone I know who can stomach it - I wanted to take every second line and frame it, because it made me laugh, or dug too deep. But it's another one of those books I don't think I can face again. It's one of those books I can only hope to come back to in future and digest again in fragments, lest it overwhelm me. That is to say, business as usual!

To summarize, Exordia is about the trolley problem, explored to agonizing depth, and about space aliens, the question of free will and the fabric of reality, the military, colonialism, war, and genocide, through the eyes of characters who have been on both sides of the gun, finger on detonator, and are deeply traumatized. There is no way I can do justice to any of it here, but I can only try.

This is a "fun book" as a breather, in the author's words, to which I say I think your definition of "fun" is a little warped. What the fuck. But this is a really Funny book; snappy, full of wit and probing, scathing commentary. And it is full of rage.

To be honest, having Exordia be hard sci-fi sorely tested my determination to follow Seth Dickinson to the depths of Hell (haha), because I tend to be cast adrift by constant technobabble and scientific conceits I'd need a PhD to grasp, my pea brain can't handle it. But I needn't have worried, because Exordia works through its characters, and never loses sight of that. I mean, you'll get a lot of sci-fi and allegedly it's very robust for those out there who love it, but it offers so much to readers on the other end of the spectrum - the characters and their relationships drive the novel, sometimes literally. They are each distinctive and sometimes awful and so so human (except for when they aren't).

Anna is a mean and hard-edged delight, her and her relationship with her mother and her alien, both strangely tender and so painful. I loved seeing her face her choice and grappling with it, living with it, but even so, she faces the world with a resigned and grimly cheerful determination. Refusing to be pinioned. Ssrin - I loved her in all her alien glory and alien morality and sometimes-kindness, and especially when she pulled the rug from under my feet - don't get complacent. I loved whatever the fuck Erik/Rosamaria/Clayton had going on (god that toxic love/obsession is so chefs kiss, what with Clayton's desperate need to prove himself to Erik, the fact that he loved him even while he was making choices Erik would loathe), and Li Aixue/Chaya's tentative interactions, their wonder.

(One of my favourite parts: Erik telling Anna (melodramatically) his life story, trying to justify to her his vendetta against Clayton, and Anna listening patiently, then blowing his hypocrisy wide open with a smile.)

(Another favourite part - Anna and Ssrin as roommates, their last idyll. The Khai's seven passions.)

That ending............ is another familiar stomach-clencher. I wanted to find out more about those space aliens and their culture, and the ending was poised on that cusp. Likely that wasn't the point, likely it's supposed to hit close to home and stay there. I wouldn't say no to a sequel, though. I loved Exordia so much. I want to hope, for these characters.

Some more personal thoughts: if you loved the last two books of Baru you will also likely love this one - it's the same style of character work mixed with frenetic action, where at times the story loiters but you're just enjoying its texture too much to care, if that makes any sense at all, and there are strong echoes of known characters and themes that are returned to (what is a soul? how to do good, when every path demands sacrifice? does anyone have that right, to choose? choice and the context of those choices). Also I genuinely think Seth is prescient (the pandemic, anyone?), and having this book be released now, with its unflinching takedown of the US and the atrocities it's responsible for, and is complicit in, and its justifications of those atrocities, is ballsey, but sorely needed.

A huge thank you to Tor and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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It has been just about a month since I finished reading my Netgalley ARC of Exordia. I have had difficulty summarizing, or even providing a slice of my feelings and experiences reading Exordia. It has infected my brain, and if I'm being completely honest I preordered a number of copies for friends who I believe will love this book. Dickinson's The Masquerade was so electrifying that I returned to reading sci-fi and fantasy. Exordia continues to light my brain on fire in the same way The Traitor Baru Cormorant did five years ago.

Seth Dickinson is an extraordinary author who juggles a dazzling number of extremely high concept ideas with compelling and hurt (so hurt!) characters. Exordia is another stellar example of Dickinson's work. I've seen it blurbed as "Michael Crichton meets Marvel's Venom," but I think a more accurate summary would be "Independence Day meets Annihilation." In part for the context of an extraterrestrial encounter, but much more for the phantasmagoric explosion of body horror, fractal imagery, and connection and conflict between people of radically different upbringing and culture trying to work together in apocalyptic circumstances.

The book isn't just rich in ideas, it's smart. The book leaps from perspectives and events to others explosively, dropping the reader in radically new settings and the book expects readers to keep up. It starts off dizzying, but by the midpoint of the novel the reader should be comfortable with the way the narrative shifts its attentions and focus. The novel is a challenging read, and to effectively cover its subject matter, the novel has to be challenging.

Exordia doesn't shy away from challenging themes. Central to the plot is the Kurdish people and their repeated experiences with exploitation and genocide. Many characters are deeply traumatized, having experienced some of the worst things that humans can experience. Other characters are responsible for similar exploitation and genocides. There are elements of body-horror that are troubling, and nauseating, but necessarily powerful.

But even more than the novel is challenging, or smart, or phantasmagoric, it is fun! There were times I was cackling with laughter or joy. In the midst of apocalyptic battle, certain characters take the time to admire the beauty of fighter jet design. (In fact, the love for fighter jets is one of the most thrilling and fun components of the whole novel) At times both characters and narrative seems terminally online, making pop-culture references a mile a minute, that never feel out of place so much as they feel representative of weird, off-putting, empathic, loving, real people. Much of the second half of the novel is fun, bold, and insane in a way that's hard to quantify without heavy spoilers.

The book won't be for everyone, nor will any masterpiece. There will be readers who struggle with the narrative shifts, the elegantly complicated plot lines and ever-expanding cast of characters. But the novel's character doesn't make it any less of a masterpiece, just less of a universal read. While I assume Exordia will actually be more accessible and broadly appealing than Dickinson's The Masquerade, Exordia will still be an acquired taste. But for those who can enjoy it, it is singular in its appeal.

Exordia is a masterpiece. It's so frenetic, explosive, and elegant that I can barely scratch the surface. I would need 6 months and a research team to track down all the references and implications, before I could even begin to write a review that praises Exordia in the way it deserves.
For now, I'll say this: If high concept, character-driven, science fiction is up your alley- if you love Annihilation, Dune, or other such fare, then there's a good shot this will earn a spot on your favorite novels. It's just that good.

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I'm conflicted. This was good! (it's Seth Dickinson, after all). It had plenty of interesting ideas that I'll be thinking about for a long time. But I'll be honest: my favourite part was the opening act. The rest was just a little too... slow? Elaborate? Detailed? I don't know. It was good, but by the time I finished the book my first thought was, "now I'm free!" I'm also not sure about the ending. I was hoping for a standalone and I don't know if this is it or not.

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I could not put this book down, my god. Staying up super late multiple nights because I couldn’t stop reading is such a great problem to have, and Exordia gave me that problem more than any book I’ve read in a few years.

This is a very different book than Baru, but Seth’s evocative prose and dark humor is familiar from page one, and the laser focus on defamiliarizing real world injustices is again the core of the work. Despite being far more immediate (Exordia is set during the Obama administration in our world, with an alternate history beginning from the moment the book starts), the heaviness of the topics never gets overwhelming. There’s some incredible (and extremely fitting) tonal dissonance here, with every perspective character having their own sense of disaffected humor about the apocalyptic situation they’ve been thrown into.

I described this to my friend after just starting as “if the Books of Sorrow were written with Gideon the Ninth’s tone and just straight up in our world,” and I think that remains true throughout. There’s a huge amount of references peppered in, and it helps maintain that lighter tone to balance the despair of what is essentially a doomsday clock ticking down throughout the book - and it helps keep things grounded, honestly. I never felt it took away from the gravity of things, or was unnatural - after all, if I, an early 21st century sci fi nerd, was thrown into some fucked up alien bioweapon mystery, it’s hard to say my first thought wouldn’t be “oh shit, this is just like the Andromeda Strain!”

Having seven (eight?) different protagonist (or deuteragonist, I don’t know which they qualify as) PoVs is pretty wild but works perfectly here. Every character has such a unique outlook that you can instantly figure out whose head you’ve popped into even before any identifying names or things are mentioned - Seth’s mastery of the tonally cohesive PoV shifts was something I had loved in Tyrant, especially, and they’re equally impressive here. The characters are lovable, hatable, and everything in between - and each as mentioned is so distinct and compelling that I can’t say there was a single character who I was unhappy to get into their head. And that’s saying something, given who some of these characters are, but I’ll leave the specifics a surprise. Predictably, my favorites were the dysfunctional autistic butch-femme lesbians, but I really loved all of them in the end.

The base premise is almost comical in how small it starts to how much it escalates - a cynical, disillusioned Kurdish genocide survivor, Anna Sinjari, meets a terrifying (and yes…very hot. I’m a simple woman) alien in Central Park, and this seemingly chance encounter sees her roped into a small group of scientists, soldiers, and her own mother in a desperate countdown to solve an otherworldly mystery and save their world. The twists and turns of the plot are intense, so engaging that I was bouncing up and down at times (there’s plenty of sci-fi insanity that I absolutely eat up), and tightly paced.

Seth seems to really enjoy writing ethical dilemmas to great effect, and Exordia is ruthless in that area, taking the base concept of the trolley problem and the moral justification for what someone would sacrifice for the greater good and carving it apart for narrative weight. What greater good does the sacrifice serve? Is it actually good? Who gets to make the choice, and do they have a choice but to make it? There’s a lot to dig into here, and Exordia is a four course meal.

One aspect of this simply taking place in our world, rather than being an alternate universe like Baru, is that the defamiliarized commentary is even more on the nose. Whereas Baru is a commentary on empire and homophobia as a whole, transparently pulling from primarily American history of genocide and imperialism to shape a culture unlike our own in many ways to defamiliarize this moral exploration, Exordia is just literally about real world American imperialism and enabling of genocide in the MENA region, primarily the ramifications of the military industrial complex’s usage of drone warfare and the extremist regimes armed and encouraged by “counterterrorism.”

All this sets the stage for the question of what happens when a bigger fish arrives, one just as hell bent on empire building and justifying its own atrocities. The sci-fi intervention into this banal evil is at the same time a reflection of that evil, and asking if the world has the capacity for resistance to both. Exordia’s answer is profound, and far from easy, but entirely fitting for the ethical dilemma that runs throughout the book, creeping up on you slowly as you start to recognize what shape it takes in this story.

The central material conflict of the book, a locked box mystery of sorts that you piece together with the characters, is fucked up and fun and scary, a reality shifting threat that treads the line between body horror, meta-narrative, and lovecraftian math. It’s extremely cool, and I think it’ll be right up the alley of fans of The Andromeda Strain, The Locked Tomb, The Books of Sorrow and other parts of Destiny lore, and a lot of other SFF stories where ethics, horror, and mystery mix together.

I don’t want to say too much about the climax and the ending - going into this book without knowing too much was an incredible experience that had me on the edge of my proverbial seat - but the ending left me asking myself some very similar questions as I had at the end of Traitor, and I cannot wait for a reread when the physical book is in my hands to see what little foreshadowed things I can pick up on.

I don’t think people are going to be quite as completely emotionally Destroyed at the ending of this one as Traitor, but…it is very much a Seth Dickinson book, and they have quite the talent for making every thread tie together at the end to make the reader feel every emotion at once and realize that this could never have gone any other way. I cried, I laughed, sometimes simultaneously, and a book that can do that to me is entirely worth the experience - and what an experience this was.

Absolutely fucking incredible, I want more of these characters and everything they’re wrapped up in, 10/10.

I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I’m a big fan of Dickinson’s Baru Cormorant series, so I was curious to see what he’d been working on in the meantime. I was excited to see how he handled a different genre but I think through reading Exordia I realized that what I liked so much about Baru Cormorant isn’t very specific to the genre, what grabbed me were the compelling, fully fleshed out main cast and relationships I became invested in, along with the great, intricate worldbuilding.

Other reviewers have mentioned that the first section stands out and was originally published as a separate short story. I think the first section is the strongest part of the book and Anna and Ssrin’s weird-ass relationship was super compelling and drew me in, and then we basically never saw these characters interact again until the very end of the book.

I also think Dickinson bit off more than he could chew with all the topics he covers in the book. Pure math, the history of outside interference in Kurdistan, the Obama-era drone program and military in general, alien technology that interfaces with souls- it’s an ambitious amount of ground to cover and even with how long the book is, to me it spent so much time jumping around that it didn’t really fully deliver on any of these aspects.

I found the overarching plot and the POV characters engaging, but I struggled with the choppiness of the narrative. At the climax, I was genuinely too confused with what was happening with all the different characters and their motivations actually digest what was happening. Overall, I liked parts of it but struggled with the book as a whole, and would recommend people go in knowing that it’s hard sci-fi and pretty different from the Baru Cormorant series.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

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This is a difficult book to review. I really enjoyed the Baru Cormorant books, though they took me a while to get through and had a little too much economics and politics for my personal taste, and the beginning of this book really captured me in a similar way. Seth Dickinson has a prose style that appeals to me, and his books thus far have had an imaginative complexity that I enjoy. This particular book turned out to be very much not my thing, but I can definitely see what kinds of readers would enjoy it. so I want to emphasize that I think the writing is great, the overall plotting is skillful, and that the opinions I'm going to express about the book overall were things I didn't like but things others surely will like, because I think Dickinson is a skilled writer. My experience was disappointing, but it's not really about the quality of the book, just that it was not at all what I expected in a way I didn't end up enjoying.

This started out as an alien book, with the fun combo of horror and humor that plopping aliens down in the very real modern world can produce. Anna, a young Kurdish woman living in New York, and Ssrin, an alien she spots in Central Park, have an immediate bond. The kind of fun, unhealthy, weird bond that two beings who have lived through horrors and are sharing an apartment can have with each other, accentuated by interesting alien biology and culture and the sense of a coming large-scale conflict on the horizon. I loved this part of the book, I think it will stick with me.

Then it became very much a military book--our military and foreign militaries--in a way that felt similar to how a blockbuster alien or superhero movie can sometimes be suddenly about the military response rather than the average person response. It also became a theoretical math book?? Which was rough for me, a person who does not understand math at all. Some of the characters we met after that initial introduction with Anna and Ssrin were interesting, but I didn't love any of them in the way I wanted to; I got overwhelmed by the amount of jargon I didn't understand and, personally, didn't care about. It was a very long book, and the bulk of it was really tough going for me, and the ending did not really pay off enough to make up for it (though I did like the ways that things tied up). So, very much not a book for me, disguised as a book I thought would be up my alley.

But! Complex and well-written, an intriguing premise, interestingly morally complicated, and I think it will please a lot of readers.

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Seth Dickinson writes a fun book as a breather. Which for Seth means a brutally imaginative scifi cross-examination of sacrifice, genocide and the legacy of US imperialism. Somehow this ends up being really goddamn funny. I do not know how they do it.

If Baru took an elliptical path towards its subject matter, by defamiliarising and rearranging the material of history... Exordia gets straight in there.

Maybe you could call it philosophy-driven science fiction, a thought experiment about ethics. Maybe you could compare it to Arrival, but shot up with dark humour (it's a book that could make me laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time) and real tragedy (at the core is [the genocide of the Kurds](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anfal_campaign) in the late 80s, and the many betrayals and failures of American imperialism). It's got a lot of action and military details, with a good few spies and soldiers as central characters, but broadly it’s one of the sharpest eviscerations of the US military and its role in the world I’ve encountered in Western science fiction.

The first two thirds or so lay out the driving, fascinating ‘what the hell is this thing’ mystery lined with all manner of juicy body horror and drama—yet the core high-concept premise is laid out almost immediately, you know what's at stake. The last third… escalates.

It's full of the usual meaty Seth themes, iterating on the ideas first laid out in Baru. But it's a distinct flavour of its own. That escalation is... well, I can't describe in detail, not while the book isn't even out, but it's nuts. Not just for the scale, but for how convincingly it sells concepts that if I described them straightforwardly would sound completely ridiculous.

Equally, it's a study of a markedly diverse group of characters thrown together from all over the world, each constructed with very evident care and nuance. It goes places that so many writers would probably feel 'damn, that's probably *way too thorny* for someone like me to write about'---and yet somehow, it manages to handle it gracefully each time. Certainly, you can perhaps inevitably tell when Seth is writing from direct experience and when they are (as they used to say back in the '10s) Writing The Other, if only through what they assume you know and what they need to explain as much as everything---and yet there are always all these telling details (the scientist cursing out R) that make these characters come alive with convincing presence and humour.

(Of course the autistic-ass lesbians are my faves. It's not as overtly a Lesbian Book as Baru was, but there's a *strong* current of gay.)

A few other reviewers mention Crichton, but I haven't read Crichton, so... I'll have to make other comparisons. But then the thing is it's very self-aware about existing in the fabric of science fiction. This book is set in our world, not in the near future but the recent past, in the late Obama administration. A lot of the things you might compare it to (including a couple I've mentioned, Arrival, Crichton) will be invoked as explicit, in-character allusions as these very sharp, funny, modern people try to make sense of their crazy situation. Sometimes it feels like Tamsyn's use of memes as texture, but it never gets overbearing. The rhythms of Seth's prose have been refined by Baru into a powerful suite of devices to make you cackle and go, noooo, Seetttthhhhh...

It's a fascinating blend of hard-ish scifi, with the big ideas carried by *surprisingly accurate* higher-mathematical technobabble, and what you could probably best call occultism: narrative and ethics and gods and mythology. Seth always tends to deflect when praised for their ability to hop between a dozen different disciplines and pull them together into one unifying story, saying that they're just good at looking up summaries, or that they had help from the right people. Maybe so, but it *works*, it passes the smell test, and Seth's real genius is their remarkable ability to tie all these big grand ideas back into the world of character and emotion.

Since this is an advance review... I gotta be careful how much I say! Usually I assume you've read it if you're going to and dive straight into the spoilers and long quotes, but here I feel like I should take a little care to avoid describing too precisely the exact beats of the story. (Rest assured I will give it the thorough treatment when it comes out in full).

But, I feel like I want to say something a little more substantial. So here's a description of the mechanism. If all you want to know is whether you should read this book, hopefully I've given you plenty of reasons that the answer is god, yes, do it. If you want to know more, read on.

---

OK, so what's this book actually *about*? Like not in big themes (the trolley problem, genocide), but specifically?

The story expands on a short Seth wrote years ago called [Anna Saves Them All](https://www.shimmerzine.com/anna-saves-them-all-by-seth-dickinson/). Like in that story, it concerns a giant alien entity, named Blackbird by the Americans; like in that story, it centres on a woman named Anna who was the victim of a twisted experiment in complicity by an Iraqi genocidaire in the Anfal genocide, her encounter with a rebel alien named Ssrin whose species is marked as evil by nature, and the constant question of sacrificing few to save many and its lasting psychic impact. But the terms of the short story are very simple, and the book goes a whole lot further, drilling much much deeper into just about everything.

One of the structuring elements of this story is essentially the trolley problem, or the Lisa scenario: situations where you have to *actively* kill a small number of people in order to prevent a much larger catastrophe. Several characters are defined by how they act in this situation, and a great many more by the lasting impacts of it. But rather than abstract thought experiment, this book is determined to make you see all the consequences.

Unlike the original story, we open with a kind of prelude chapter in which Anna encounters Ssrin in New York, which serves as an opportunity to introduce us to the big-picture premise. This is a universe where the line between 'ought' and 'is' has been rather muddied. We have a notion of dualist souls, distillations of agency existing on a kind of second level reality and interfacing with certain physical things like brains. This is the 'areteia', a layer of reality whose material is intention, decision, and stories. We're told that this 'areteia' layer is intrinsically flawed, exploitable. We're given a frame to interpret the events that will play out, the 'seven great passions' that the aliens consider to be universals that the areteia tries to enforce---one of which links Anna and Ssrin, acting as a kind of metafictional protection for both.

We learn about a space empire ruled by intrinsically-damned snake-headed centaurs, that has found exploits in this system, using calculated cruelty for space travel and weaponry, and a habit of 'pinioning' souls to make rebellion intrinsically impossible. We learn that Ssrin is here to exploit the humans to manifest a weapon that will either corrupt their absolute authority or save them all from hell. Ssrin, the rebel, wants to bring about the former, but she's pursued by vicious, smart and endlessly cruel Iruvage, the space cop who wants the *latter* outcome for his species.

This opening act of the story is very funny, with an abrupt turn to the cruel at the end. Anna is an entertainingly embittered protagonist, one of the strongest narrative voices in the novel. She starts with everyday problems; she can't keep a job, she is paranoid and pushes people away. She is sardonically unimpressed by the American institutions that struggle to digest her, and holds a fascinatingly fucked up mindset where her trauma is wrapped tightly around the idea of having a choice.

Then we reach act 2 and things *really fucking escalate*.

The bulk of the story takes place after two big things happen. Thanks to Ssrin, a mysterious, gigantic alien entity manifests in Iraqi Kurdistan, on top of Anna's home village, which has now become a jineologist commune by historical accident, and starts corrupting things that come into contact with it. Also, aliens set off a bunch of nukes, causing a worldwide EMP and setting the stakes for the rest of the story.

There are a *lot* of nuclear detonations in this story.

So. Scientists and soldiers from (in order) Canada, Uganda, Iran and China, Russia and finally the US converge to try and figure out what the hell it is. A lot of very very nasty things happen, Roadside Picnic/SCP type shit. Many of the humans are being manipulated by the two aliens, who are both trying to secure the object while keeping themselves safe from the other.

I won't spoil exactly what the 'Blackbird' is or does. Only to say that you could call it 'post-Deep Dream horror'.

From this point the story rapidly switches POVs and timeframes. The core cast expands, first with the addition of Erik and Clayton, who are kinda the Cairdine Farrier and Cosgrad Torrinde of this story: two powerful bastards with history, who represent opposing poles of a central question. They're childhood friends who are now linked by that time they organised a secret assassination program within the US military.

For Erik the straightforward virtue-ethicist soldier, 'Paladin' was a manner of extralegal execution for untouchable American war criminals; for Clayton the utilitarian spy and face of the drone program, a very alienated Black guy firmly embedded in the machinery of American power, it could be expanded an instrument of policy with a much broader remit. These two boys are united by their love of the third childhood friend, Rosamaria, who once married Clayton but ultimately cut ties with both of them in disgust when they explained what they'd been doing. They're pretty sore about it.

Rosamaria could be called the Kindalana of this story, in a number of ways---the sexy erudite one who's the centre of a love triangle (there's a certain amount of Tau and Abdumasi in Erik and Clayton as well). We get her POV only a little, but her presence in the story is enormous. We encounter her through Erik and Clayton's eyes in flashbacks, and there she functions as a bit of a vehicle for discussing how we are shaped by many overlapping and contradictory stories. Without saying too much, something really messed up happens to drag Rosamaria back into the story that she tried to leave. Sorta.

This, and so many other things, tie back to the sci-fi: much as in Baru, the 'soul' in this story is a kind of 'inner law', an overriding authority over brains, that grounds decisions. But here, it's less of a metaphor or frame of interpretation and more an absolute fact of the universe, something that can be manipulated. The metaphysics of it can be pretty fucky.

Alongside Erik and Clayton, we have Chaya and Aixue, respectively a Filipino-Ugandan mineral prospector with a background in black hole physics, and a Chinese genius mathematician with big autisms. These are the lesbians, a butch-femme pair of them no less; they're some of the first people to encounter Blackbird and the key to figuring out what the hell it is and does. Much of the story has two arcs evolving in parallel: the past story of Chaya and Aixue investigating the object in increasingly fraught circumstances, and the present story of what happens after the Americans arrive.

Through these two, as well, we bring in a lot of classic Seth themes about the way we relate to the big social stories. Chaya and Aixue both have complicated backgrounds, shaped by multiple cultures (Aixue studied in the States, Chaya moved to Uganda from the Phillipines), and---spoilers!!!---they are able to gain a measure of protection from some of the weird cosmic shit by leaning into the simplest stories of who they are, but of course people can't be so reduced.

Then there's Davoud, the Iranian fighter pilot who made a deal with Iruvage. I wasn't initially convinced by Davoud, since he seemed a little one-note (he *really* fucking loves planes), but he definitely grew on me over the course of the story---he has some great moments, because he's the vector for Seth to be a plane nerd.

And finally of course there's Anna's mum, Khaje.

If you liked the scenes of Baru's mum in Tyrant, you'll probably have a great time with Khaje. She has huge PTSD after what Anna did, regarded with pity as something of the town drunk, but she's a potent narrative force, and the main POV Kurdish character besides Anna. A number of chapters end with a character pointing a gun at another's head and firing (with various consequences), and the very first instance is Khaje pointing one at Anna. If Anna's 'story' is about biting the bullet and sacrificing others, then living with the consequence of that choice, Khaje's story is about trauma, protectiveness and *self*-sacrifice. Khaje is standoffish towards the others in her village, but also willing to go to all sorts of lengths to protect them when the world shows up, yet again, with bombs. Khaje remains in contact with Ssrin for much of the story, carrying out her own little subplot which eventually ties back.

These might be the 'main characters' but there's a bunch of others who move in and out of the story, often violently. If it sounds hard to keep track---it really isn't! The story is so snappily paced and the characters so distinctive that I never had trouble remembering who was who.

Eventually of course they figure out what the deal is with Blackbird. At this point the story shifts gears again, and things start going *very very* hard. It's a magnificently apocalyptic action sequence, what seems like perhaps a conventional climactic battle at an insane scale---but remember, this is a Seth Dickinson book. It's a story about what you do when there isn't an easy out. I hope that's not saying too much.

In some ways, I can see what Seth was getting at by saying this was supposed to be a 'fun' book in between instalments of Baru---but Seth is Seth and Seth can't help complicating things, it's their 'inner law' manifesting. I am reminded a bit of Seth's writing for the game Destiny, notably the [Books of Sorrow](https://www.ishtar-collective.net/categories/books-of-sorrow) which also featured galactic conquerors motivated by the nature of violence and coercion itself. In some ways this book feels like a thought experiment on the idea of an 'evil species', trying to draw out what that would actually mean. Ssrin and Iruvage's people are branded "evil" on a cosmic level, their instinct is towards coercion---there are some very funny parts in the opening act where Ssrin gives her dismissive assessment of humans. And Ssrin is definitely not simply 'the good alien', even if her counterpart will happily monologue about how much he loves genocide---she's trying, but more ruthless even than Anna or Clayton.

Because their nature is so extreme, because they are in large part narrative devices the two aliens remain fairly opaque to us readers. We only get hints towards their world, filtered through an imperfect translator that's prone to coming up with neologisms. (The book mostly translates everything the characters say into English, but occasionally will include passages of untranslated text when the POV character wouldn't understand it.) But what is evident is that they're *smart*. They want things and they come up with nasty, convoluted schemes to get it. The role of these aliens is essentially that of the wizard: their purposes are occult, their visions are grandiose, and their morality severely askew from human norms. In this way they sidestep a lot of the radioactive associations of an 'evil species'.

And of course, by collapsing the 'is-ought' barrier, we get to question what exactly the 'Cultraic Brand' represents. The 'souls' may be a crystallisation of decisions, pushing most of all towards consistency, but by bringing them into something with direct causal effect, it pulls the 'areteia' from 'ought'-land to 'is'-land in disguise. Empiracally, the aliens provoke automatic reactions of loathing, and have gone through many cultural eras that ended up in imperialism; but they are clearly not *fated* to 'only do evil'. Ssrin herself is a defector. She may claim to be 'objectively' evil, but... well, I guess this is something to dig into at length later, when the book is out and I can quote it.

What's very funny to me is that, so far as I know, Seth does not really watch anime. Because I think this novel is *anime as fuck*. Sure, Evangelion gets mentioned by characters, twice, and that's relevant as both a similar scale of cosmic scifi and the paradigmatic '<i>sekaikei</i>' where the small-scale interpersonal relationships are the fulcrum of cosmic events. (Yes yes, I know a lot of people think <i>sekaikei</i> is a meaningless category.) But what I think of is equally the grail confronting Kiritsugu with his nature in Fate Zero, the lotus-eater dream of the Anti-Spirals, Bondrewd's instrumentalisation of affection, the final stage of Revue Starlight. It's kind of the abstract, structural stuff---the way the story unfolds into a spiral of causality, the deployment of a flashback at the climactic moment.

\[I also think, at points, of Homestuck and its 'ultimate' versions of characters. Perhaps that's a theme to elaborate on later. (...I suddenly recall once telling Seth that Homestuck was a true <i>gesamtkunstwerk</i>. They replied 'excuse you'.)\]

There's a *lot* to draw out of this book. The mathematics alone could take several articles. The different ways it depicts military power. The story it tells about the Kurds, whose tragedies and resistance are invoked throughout this novel, who look on ideology from various angles. The tour of historical atrocities it invokes, large and small.

In the acknowledgements, Seth thanks sources from academic articles to Discord servers which helped them with everything from translation and cultural accuracy to black hole physics. It paid off. There was really only one point in the story where I was like 'that's a technical error' (an incorrect description of ferromagnetism and induced current, but not a mistake that had bearing on the plot)---and while I can't tell how it would come across to a Kurdish, Ugandan, Chinese, Russian or Iranian reader, I can recognise the effort that has gone into the depiction. Everyone in the geopolitical clusterfuck is rendered understandable.

And true, it is a story by an American and it is America that the story shines its most critical light on, but it is *very* careful, noticeably so, to avoid making Americans the protagonists of reality, or let them off the hook for anything. The characters all come alive, fleshed out and funny little bastards that break free of the cage of anthropologycore they could have been reduced to. Instead, it is the efficient, sociopathic American operators who feel like bugs on a plate.

The most mysterious character, the Blackbird itself, as the item so much of the plot revolves around---well, it's absolutely intriguing. Hard-ish science fiction (which this sort of is, and sort of isn't) must paint itself into the gaps of known science, make story-important connections out of things that are almost certainly mere coincidence in the real world---and this story manages it with aplomb. Considering that a reasonable chunk of the story involves a mathematical physicist making a discovery that unifies disparate branches to reveal the fingerprint of an unknown logical force, considering it touches on branches of maths like fractals that attract a lot of woo, that's *no mean feat*. I'll say much more about that when the book comes out lol.

Some of the allusions flew over my head. Names of actors, stuff like that. But I could generally infer what was being suggested by an invocation, even if I didn't know the source, so it was never a speedbump. And the times I did catch it, it definitely cracked me up---oh, of course the phone password is 0451, just slip that one in there. I laughed so many times in this book, Seth has such a talent for deadpan lines and characterisation that is just too perfect. There is a phone call scene towards the end of the book that is just brutally tragic and simultaneously so goddamn funny, I think I was in a superposition. Seth has developed such a sharp sense of cadence in prose. The most noticeable device is to end a section or chapter with one short, declarative simple sentence describing something huge and dramatic, then cut.

And it was so absorbing to read: it felt *right*. Knowing how thoroughly Seth edits, I can see the effort paying off. When I read this book, when I got a chance to slip back into Seth's worldview, I felt a sense of connection: finally someone who thinks in a way that I can connect to, finally somewhere I can slip inside to be less alone. The web of connections that build into meaning here, look, I get to see it again. The questions it's struggling towards, the determination to avoid easy outs. It's here again. Come and taste it.

All in all. Seth *did it again*. I'm hooked. God, I hope there's a sequel after Baru 4 is done. It is simultaneously set up to angle towards a sequel and also---well, let's say that it rules out the idea of book 2 looking anything similar. So I can only imagine.

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This is an excellent novel, both thrilling and conceptual, literary and human, serious and fun.

It is also going to piss a lot of people off because it does not automatically reveal all the kinks and knots in its worldbuilding. This isn't to say the worldbuilding is particularly cryptic or difficult. It's just extremely detailed. Even then, it's structured in such a way that the important parts are almost always re-explained as soon as they become relevant. But a lot of readers, especially SFF ones, immediately break at the thought that something isn't immediately, transparently obvious. It's okay, guys. You're not supposed to understand everything. The people explaining are aliens and quantum physicists. Be at peace.

If you can get over that hurdle, you'll find a highly emotional and philosophical and fun story about humanity, colonialism, failure, pain, moral philosophy, and love. The moral philosophy part was a particular treat for me, because it slapped me in the face. I've said before that moral philosophy is 'the most useless' philosophy because its main purpose seems to be obfuscating theoretical models of behavior for the amusement of privileged old men who will never have to face those choices. This book gave me the finger. It points to the ways those theoretical models are in fact real and are faced by real people daily. I love it when books prove me wrong.

My only substantive complaint is the pacing, though I am personally extremely sensitive to pacing because my attention span hasn't been the greatest since COVID. The... second eighth of the book? There's a bit of a lag, when we're jumping between timelines, that feels a bit like this novel was at one point a novella or a novelette that was elongated. But I am also just personally not a fan of switching around in timelines and POVs too much. And it's a credit to this book that the switching POV didn't turn me off completely.

All and all, I'd love it if this became the new SF, especially MilSF. I want more morality in my space battles, more questioning the fabric of existence, more reckoning with America's seedy colonialist past and present and, let's be real, future. More military SF should question the military industrial complex. Shake the foundations of the genre! Feed me good food. This book was a feast.

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This was for sure the longest 400 page book I have ever read. Also I think the weirdest book I've ever read. It was confusing at times, but also very funny. The first part was really good, and it was a preview of that that made me want to pick up the whole book, but a lot of the sociopolitical stuff went over my head, and all the science technobabble. The narration was very unique, and I think others will either love it or hate it. Overall a bit of a baffling read, but not one I didn't enjoy. A lot of it felt very X-Files-esque, and the characters really did grab me. 2.5/5 stars.

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