Song of Scarabaeus, a debut science fiction novel by Sara Creasy, was nominated for both the Philip K. Dick Award and the Aurealis Award for Best SF Novel. Its sequel and the conclusion to the story, Children of Scarabeaus, was released earlier this year.
When Edie has to leave lunch to look into a freight car that stopped working properly, she figures it’s all part of the job. Instead, her guard is knocked out by a woman carrying a weapon and she is informed that it was all a setup to get Edie there – because they have a job for her themselves.
Edie attempts to escape but is knocked out and kidnapped. When she awakens, she’s informed that they came for her because she is the most successful cypherteck, whose mission is to terraform planets for habitation by humans. The Crib Colonial Unit (CCU), the corporation Edie has a contract with, is slowly taking over the galaxy with their monopoly on terraforming technology. In order to keep these planets habitable, those who live there must pay the CCU large sums of money frequently to keep them running. Edie’s kidnappers want to earn some money for themselves working against the CCU.
Edie is given a choice: she must either cooperate with these rebels or they’ll get rid of her. There’s no guarantee she’ll be as valuable to her new captors, and her life depends on it. In order to leave the planet she was born on, Edie has to have a neuroxin implant refilled every once in a while containing an element inhabitants of her homeworld receive naturally through their food. If she runs out of neuroxin, she will die. Edie decides to remain with her kidnappers, but soon finds they are even more despicable than she thought. While she was unconscious, they linked her internal tech to that of Finn, her new guard, and if he strays too far or doesn’t prevent her own death, he’ll die himself. Edie determines to at least free Finn from this fate, but soon she also finds herself contending with a world from her past. The crew’s first mission concerns Scarabaeus, the world Edie considers to be her one failure.
Song of Scarabeus has been on my radar ever since even before it was released thanks to an endorsement from Linnea Sinclair, and since then I’ve heard more and more praise for it. So when I was looking for a book to read on the way to Book Expo America, I decided it was time to finally read it. While I really enjoyed it for most of the book, I did find my interest waning as I got closer to the end. At first I wasn’t quite sure why not other than the fact that I found myself growing less attached to the characters. After rereading parts of it today I think it’s also because much of the basic storyline felt very familiar to me from some other space operas or even just general speculative fiction I’ve read.
This is not to say there were not a lot of original details, particularly when it came to the science fiction elements in the story. There is a bit of technical detail overload at times, but the social dynamics and setting are fascinating. It’s set in a universe in which a huge corporation is monopolizing the galaxy by terraforming worlds and then forcing people to give them large sums of money in order to continue to keep those planets habitable. Because of this, there is the rebel group who wants to recruit the main character, Edie, a person with a great talent for terraforming planets. There are also groups of eco-rads, people who kill cyphertecks like Edie because they believe the worlds should be left alone to evolve without interference. There’s a lot of specifics about the ingrained technology that allows cyphertecks to transform these seeds into a world humans can live on. Also, Edie’s situation was quite interesting – having biological requirements from the planet she was born on that made it difficult for her to leave. Since she no longer receives nourishment from the food there, she has to wear an implant containing the substance she needs to survive and replenish it frequently.
The main plot elements are rather typical with some tropes, though. A woman who has a great ability is kidnapped by a rebel group who wants to use her ability to go up against a big, evil corporation. Not only does this woman have a useful ability, but she is the best ever at it to the point where she is able to perform tasks that no one else has ever been able to do before. She even surprises herself with her amazing skill. Yet she can’t do the one thing that would be inconvenient to the plot – cutting the leash that keeps her and Finn together. This way they get to learn to work together and build trust for each other. (That’s not to say this book is a romance. I’d heard it labeled as science fiction romance and also heard it wasn’t really one from people who had read it. I have to side with the latter – while there is a little bit of romance here and there, it’s not the main focus.)
If the characters had really worked for me, I may have been able to get past this enough to love this book as much as many others have instead of just liking it. While I found Edie’s stubborn nature and attitude very admirable and really enjoyed gradually learning more about her past, there was nothing about her that really endeared her to me as a character. She didn’t stand out – she was another heroine with lots of determination, defiance of authority, and an ability better than anyone else. Likewise, Finn was sort of the stereotypical man who may be bad news with a mysterious past.
Song of Scarabeous was an entertaining book with some excellent science fiction ideas and decent enough writing if a bit overly technical at times. While enjoyable to read, I did want more from both the plot and characters, especially as I got closer to the end and became less enamored of it than I had been earlier. The pacing was decent, but certain plot elements were ones I’d read more than once before, and the characterization also utilized some common tropes. It had enough going for it that I’d like to read the next book at some point, but I’m not a big hurry to read it with all the other books that are out there.
My Rating: 7/10
Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.