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February 28, 2022

Stars and Bones by Gareth L. Powell ~ a Review

by MK French

Stars and Bones by Gareth L. Powell is has several delightful surprises.

In a future where arcs left a dying Earth, Eryn insists on being part of the crew looking into her sister's disappearance. She had been responding to an alien distress call, and a threat on Candidate-623 follows her back. People are dying, so Eryn must find a recluse with the answers that can save humanity.

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cover science fiction novel Stars and Bones by Gareth L. Powell
March 2022; ‎Titan Books; 978-1789094282
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); science fiction

We start with an invisible presence shredding humans exploring Candidate-623, then dive into Eryn's search. Hers is one main POV thread, and Haruki begins the other, describing how the end of the world came about in the first place. Eventually, we get other perspectives as well. In Eryn's thread, we're introduced to the crew of the Ocelot, all capable in their respective fields of expertise. Then we move into a horror element of the story as the force takes over, literally shreds the crew, and infiltrates the fleet. The shift into a defective story felt abrupt, even with the unknown entity following and corrupting the search process. I let it go because of how much I cared for Eryn and her desperate efforts to save humanity.

I found the arks fascinating. I've read a number of books with humans leaving Earth on arks and detail how they survive or choose who went on them. It's no spoiler to say that angels essentially picked up every living person on Earth, our grand monuments and works of culture of every nation, then scrambled them into the thousand ships that make up the fleet. Of course, there were those unhappy with such a plan, the Dissenters, so even in angelic equilibrium there are those unhappy with equality and want to restart capitalism. The angel is a cosmic entity, with a consciousness and value system different from that of humans. Even the ships' consciousness is closer to ours and easier to understand, as their job is to protect humanity, defend people from threats, and to explore. The infestation that is attacking the fleet is a separate kind of entity, and it's frightening in its alienness and relentless pursuit to destroy humanity, technology, and even the nature of space. Its identity is a delightful surprise, as is the final reveal. The second half of the book is riveting and is wonderfully done. I really enjoyed this book.

Buy Stars and Bones at Amazon

Read an excerpt from Stars and Bones

The ship fled between the stars.

Before the massacre of its crew, it had been scouting the territory a dozen light years in advance of the main body of the Continuance. Its mission had been to prospect for useful resources and forewarn the fleet of any potential threats. Unfortunately, on the last planet it visited—an unprepossessing rock known only as Candidate-623— it stumbled onto something that fell squarely into that latter category: a threat the like of which it had never encountered.

At the bottom of a steep ravine in the mountains, something had killed its crew. They awoke an entity in that gorge, and it dismembered them. Whatever that invisible presence was, it reached through their suits and flesh and wrenched the skulls, pelvic bones and femurs from their thrashing bodies. It burst their eyes from their sockets and cut short their hoarse screams as it tore away their jawbones and slopped their steaming viscera onto the rainswept ground.

Like every other ship in the fleet, the Couch Surfer was dream-linked to its navigator, whose name was Shay, and so had to endure all the confusion and terror the poor woman felt as her ribs snapped and were twisted from her chest. It shared her pain and sorrow, and the unbearable stab of loss that pierced her heart as it was ripped from her. And now, as the ship ran through the emptiness of interstellar space, Shay’s absence hindered it. Without a navigator, it couldn’t accurately traverse the substrate. It couldn’t plot a course, but the imperative to warn the fleet remained deeply ingrained in its core programming. It was duty-bound to alert the Continuance. It had to send a signal, but protocol demanded it distance itself from the hostile force before broadcasting, to avoid the possibility of its message being tracked. The last thing it wanted to do was to lead an attacker back to the fleet, and the billions of civilians contained in its arks. So, the ship flipped and spiralled through the stars, blindly hurling itself through half a dozen random and potentially dangerous substrate jumps in an effort to throw off any chance of pursuit. Despite being unable to accurately navigate without a human mind on board, its only purpose now was to survive long enough to make its report to the Vanguard.

Something bad was down there. The Couch Surfer had no idea what that something might be—its crew had seemed to spontaneously burst apart like flowers opening to the sun—but the ship knew it had to relay news of the thing’s existence to its human masters before anyone else fell victim to whatever it was. Everything else, up to and including near-fatal engine degradation, came secondary to that objective. And so, it pushed itself harder and faster than it had ever pushed before, weaving an erratic course, no longer caring for its own physical survival. All that mattered now was the data it had collected, and the forewarning implicit within.

It was almost three light years from the site of the massacre and preparing to broadcast its message when, without warning or preamble, the same invisible presence that had dismantled its crew began now to reach into its mind...

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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  1. i love the vibrant cover and i have been reading more scifi the past year or so. looks like a good one
    sherry @ fundinmental