The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham – 5 stars

Posted on August 24, 2019


The Cruel Stars
John Birmingham
August 2019
Del Ray

Whether it be felafels, time travel, alternative future or fighting oddball demons, John Birmingham is always entertaining and worth reading. He has now turned his hand to space opera and The Cruel Stars was easily my most anticipated reading of August.

The Cruel Stars is a multi-character far-future space opera. A very heavily technology-dependent human society has spread wide across the galaxies. Various independent inter-planetary nations have emerged, and a certain amount of inter-planetary warfare occurs here and there just as fighting occurs here on earth.

There was an immense war in the past against a great enemy although it was long enough ago to have almost reached mythical proportions. Consequently, humanity is caught with its collective pants down when the great enemy suddenly reappears, using humanity’s technology against it in a devastating attack. Circumstances see a quite disparate group of characters being drawn together in response to the warfare.

Just who or what the enemy is, does not become apparent for some time in the narrative and who they are was something of a surprise for me.

The plot is well conceived and drawn together in quite a believable manner, typical of JB’s work. But even more I really enjoyed the portrayal and development of the characters. I especially enjoyed one particularly irascible old admiral. I suspect JB had plenty of fun with the old codger’s dialogue and exchanging insults with an ever-present AI.

Now the bugbears.

Like a lot of space opera, The Cruel Stars shows humanity reverting to ruling royal families. They have important roles in significant business interests but are royalty just the same. As I have previously ranted about elsewhere (unfortunately that essay appears to have disappeared from the net), I have a real problem that. However, it does fit into the narrative and I am quite prepared to forgive JB for this. I can almost hear him muttering “tough shit if you don’t, mate.”

This book has only just been released and should be on the shelves of bookshops everywhere. I was able to get my hands on an advance reading copy which I finished just before release date. And now I have to bloody wait for the next installment. Arrrrggghhhhh. Shit. Bugger. Bitch. Bum.

If you like sci-fi and good storytelling, then you will enjoy The Cruel Stars. So, get thee forth and buy a copy from your nearest bookshop. What? Still reading this crap? Get out and buy that copy NOW.



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