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Sly Mongoose    by Tobias S. Buckell order for
Sly Mongoose
by Tobias S. Buckell
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2015 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sly Mongoose is the third (following Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin) in an excellent SF series by Tobias S. Buckell. Though there are references between them, each book stands well on its own. A brief summary of this third adventure might be - the Zombies are coming ... through interstellar space! But that would not do justice to this masterful SF novel, which stars one of my favorite characters from Crystal Rain, the indomitable, virtually indestructible Pepper, a centuries-old 'assassin, spy, and general all-around human weapon'.

The story opens as Pepper, in a spacesuit and strapped to a heatshield, falls through the atmosphere of the 'planet Chilo in all its glory: sulfuric acid laced clouds, crushing pressure, no breathable atmosphere.' Chilo has been settled by Azteca from New Anegada who, horrified by what they had done under their alien gods' direction, resettled in giant cities floating high above Chilo's surface, living on the edge of survival and wary of the richer, high-tech Aeolian cities. Aeolian citizens are interconnected electronically and apply instantaneous techno-democracy to self-governance. Ironically, given what's about to invade their planet, the Azteca setllers call the Aeolians zombies.

Timas lives in the spherical city of Yatapek, a hundred thousand feet above ground. As one of the slender xocoyotzin whose bodies fit into the few aging pressure suits the city owns, Timas must descend regularly into the hell of Chilo's surface to maintain the mining machine upon which Yatapek's survival depends. As the story opens, Timas ends up on the surface when Pepper crashes into Yatapek's farm section at over a hundred miles an hour. Fortunately Pepper is 'not easily breakable' and survives minus only an arm and a leg. Unfortunately, a combination of Pepper's landing and a surface sighting of what Timas believes to be an alien results in the death of Timas' partner.

Aware of Pepper's arrival on Yatapek and informed by him of the threat to their world, the Aeolians send as delegate young Katerina Volga, to negotiate Pepper's handover to them. Katerina and Timas slowly cross their cultural divide and become first friends and then something more. Flashbacks reveal the horrific backstory of how Pepper came to be wanted 'for the murder of the entire crew of the Shiek Professional' after crewmembers were taken over by the Swarm. As various groups jockey for control of the situation on Chilo, the Swarm takes over the floating cities one by one.

As always in a Buckell novel, there's violent action (and betrayals) a-plenty - in Crystal Rain it was mainly on the planet surface, off-planet in Ragamuffin, and now in Sly Mongoose, high in a planetary atmosphere. Ultimately, after the death of millions, it takes an alliance with both surface aliens and space-based Ragamuffins to save the day ... once Pepper learns to act as a sly mongoose. Don't miss this spectacular SF offering!

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