cover image Ancestral Machines

Ancestral Machines

Michael Cobley. Orbit, $15.99 trade paper (496p) ISBN 978-0-316-22118-4

In Cobley’s overcrowded fourth Humanity’s Fire space opera installment (after The Ascendant Stars), a deal gone sour draws smuggler captain Brannan Pyke and his raucous crew into a rebellion against the Gun-Lords of Shuskar. The grotesque, despotic Gun-Lords rule an “exotic mega structure” once known as the Great Harbour of Benevolent Harmony and now called the Warcage, where the populations of stolen planets are pitted against one another in eternal conflict. Also involved are an alien military leader guided by the spirits of his ancestors and a human officer who is pulled from a dead-end job by a sentient combat drone working for an enigmatic machine intelligence. Cobley’s space opera is plainly influenced by the works of Joss Whedon and the late Iain M. Banks, but he lacks their finesse. This uneven agglutination of ideas and underdeveloped characters has at least one major plot thread too many. Agent: John Berlyne, Zeno Agency. (Jan.)