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Xenowealth #1

Crystal Rain

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Long ago, so the stories say, the old-fathers came to Nanagada through a worm's hole in the sky. Looking for a new world to call their own, they brought with them a rich mélange of cultures, religions, and dialects from a far-off planet called Earth. Mighty were the old-fathers, with the power to shape the world to their liking—but that was many generations ago, and what was once known has long been lost. Steamboats and gas-filled blimps now traverse the planet, where people once looked up to see great silver cities in the sky.

Like his world, John deBrun has forgotten more than he remembers. Twenty-seven years ago, he washed up onto the shore of Nanagada with no memory of his past. Although he has made a new life for himself among the peaceful islanders, his soul remains haunted by unanswered questions about his own identity.

These mysteries take on new urgency when the fearsome Azteca storm over the Wicked High Mountains in search of fresh blood and hearts to feed their cruel, inhuman gods. Nanagada's only hope lies in a mythical artifact, the Ma Wi Jung, said to be hidden somewhere in the frozen north. And only John deBrun knows the device's secrets, even if he can't remember why or how!

Crystal Rain is the much-anticipated debut novel by one of science fiction's newest and most promising talents.

351 pages, Hardcover

First published February 7, 2006

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About the author

Tobias S. Buckell

200 books397 followers
Born in the Caribbean, Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling author. His novels and over 50 short stories have been translated into 17 languages and he has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author. He currently lives in Ohio.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 170 reviews
Profile Image for seak.
429 reviews473 followers
July 7, 2015
I've been hearing about Tobias S. Buckell's Xenowealth series for years and finally got around to it last month. My schedule made reading time difficult to find, so it probably suffered somewhat from that, but overall, I really enjoyed Crystal Rain, book 1 in the Xenowealth series.

John DeBrun has no memory of his past, but there are a few odd things he's realized about himself, such as the fact that he doesn't seem to age or get sick (unbreakable!). We find him established with a wife and son and living in a Caribbean-esque world that leans toward the steampunk.

In this Caribbean-style world, just about everyone talks in dialect. As far as a unique world, I haven't come across this yet and I thought it was interesting ... at first. Then, it got frustrating and difficult to read after a while. It really threw me off and I never got used to it even by the end. Kudos to putting it in there and diversifying the genre, nonetheless.

The Caribbeans are attacked by the neighboring culture who live across the Wicket High mountain range and who are intent on domination. Again, the actual reasons behind the attack (and the interesting surprises) are much more than one country ruling another and has more to do with who is pulling the strings as we learn as the story progresses.

I don't want to spoil too much, but the payoff in the end is really great after the mysteries finally start to unfold. I blazed through the last hundred pages and it helped I actually found that mysterious reading time I was looking for.

Again, I fear spoiling too much, but this is a brilliant mix of fantasy and science fiction that started off slowly, but really built to a great ending. I did have some problems, but overall I highly enjoyed Crystal Rain and I'm looking forward to the sequels. The reveals were worth the minor difficulties and I think going into the next book, those hiccups will be overcome.

3.5 out of 5 Stars (recommended)
Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews524 followers
March 16, 2011
The one about a land war on an isolated and technologically
retrograded colony world, with shadowy aliens working behind the

. . . Yeah, no. This book is a study in how social justice
awareness isn’t transitive. Buckell’s name got tossed around a lot a
couple years ago in race fail because he’s an author of color who, my
goodness, writes nonfaily science fiction about people of color. What
no one told me was that he simultaneously fails at disability. He
fails at disability like a boss, you guys.

[I just wrote and deleted over 1000 words of spitting rant about how
many of the exact same people who were bringing out the racism
pitchforks a couple years ago suddenly in the disability context of
Vividconfail wanted to have “a compromise dialogue.” Let’s just leave that
as the soundbyte and move on under the assumption that my anger with
and alienation from my community hasn’t lessened a single iota in
seven months. Kay? Kay.]

Anyway. The point is, as you know, Bob, that awareness of one
axis of oppression has the potential to give a person some awareness
of others, but there’s no auto fill. It’s not like dragging the
function across multiple rows in Excel.

See Tobias Buckell, whose main character is missing an arm and much of
his memory. The presentation of his physical disability is clumsy and
shallow; it’s basically just repeated references to a half dozen
things he does one-handed. There’s no grasp whatsoever on what it’s
like to experience that sort of embodiment, or the psychological
consequences of losing a body part and some function in the traumatic
way he did.

Oh, and then he gets the arm back when he gets his memory back.
Because now he’s a whole person again, get it?

If I had a quarter for every – okay. One more time.

Disability is not your metaphor. Using a piece of someone’s identity like that is dismissive and demeaning. And disability is particularly not your metaphor for incompleteness, unwholeness, lessness, damage, etc. That is the little kernel of evilness at the very center of ablest thought, right there. This is where it all comes from. Because using disability as an outward-facing metaphor for inward-facing unwholeness depends on the ablest assumption that the disabled body and the disabled person are less, are incomplete, are unwhole. Ask someone who’s been disabled for a while how it feels to be only part of a person, see how well they take it.

And if anyone really needs a sharper point on this one, the most obvious analogy I can think of is that writing disability this way is very much like the way a character’s shadiness/evilness/thuggishness is visually coded in movies through darker skin.

. . . Also the book was clumsily written and it just didn’t interest me much.
Profile Image for Sandi.
510 reviews276 followers
June 11, 2008
This book was so much fun to read. Imagine another planet inhabited by Caribbean people and Aztecs. Imagine “gods” that require blood sacrifices. Imagine a world settled by humans who get cut off from the rest of humanity and have lost most of their technology and whose origins are the stuff of myth and legend. This is the setting of "Crystal Rain" by Tobias Buckell.

When you read as much genre fiction as I do, you start recognizing the formulas and get pretty good at determining where the story is going. In science fiction and fantasy, you get quite used to having everything explained to you in lengthy exposition. With "Crystal Rain", there were surprises at every turn. The planet’s history was revealed slowly, not all at once. Whatever the characters took for granted, I took for granted. It’s obvious that Buckell had a completely envisioned world and society. But, instead of hitting the reader over the head, he hands out details in bits and pieces. His characters are fully realized and come alive on the page.

I highly recommend "Crystal Rain" for any reader of science fiction (or fantasy) that wants something fresh and exciting, yet accessible. The one thing Crystal Rain is not is weird for weirdness sake. The characters are people we can recognize and their world is not too terribly different from our own, although it is wilder. This book won’t change your life or make you a better person, but it will entertain you without making you feel like you’ve read it before.

By the way, although there is some violence (and human sacrifice), I put this in my "Sharing with my middle-school son" shelf because it was a great adventure, not too weird and it had no graphic sex in it like so many science fiction novels do. The violence was a necessary part of the story and it was handled seriously, not as fun-and-games.
Profile Image for Jon.
179 reviews33 followers
June 12, 2017
Crystal Rain has a few minor flaws, but it’s a fun novel with an interesting setting that can best be described as Caribbean steam-punk. The novel takes place on a distant, former colony world that was undergoing terraforming. About 300 years prior to the events in the novel, an interstellar war spilled over into the solar system where the world is located. In desperation, one side in the conflict set off a massive EMP burst that fried every computer and circuit board in the system. All ships and advanced tech were turned into junk and the only survivors (human and representatives of two different alien races)were those that were on the surface when the burst was set off. Now, 300 years later, the descendents of those survivors are living a low tech, quasi steam-punk existence. The one land mass on the planet is conveniently separated into two different cultures by the impassable Wicked High Mountain Range that splits the continent in half. On one side, in the country of Nanagada, are people of color, descendents of Caribbean colonists and refugees; on the other side are the Aztecas, people who have a culture based on the ancient Aztec civilization of Central America. Events are set into motion when an Azteca army finds a way through the Wicked High Mountains and invades Nanagada.

This back-story to the novel is a little convoluted and clunky and, in some spots, the plot demands some suspension of disbelief. There's also a few things that don't make sense or are poorly thought out by the author:
• The Aztecas are the biggest weakness in the novel. The author doesn’t explain how or why their culture ever came into existence. The Aztecas have a largely stone-age culture and practice human sacrifice to appease their Gods (the alien Teotl). The author briefly explains them as “religious fanatics”, but that doesn’t really explain how humans in an advanced star-faring culture would start wearing robes and feathers (and cut their sacrificial victim’s hearts out) or mimic an extinct culture and religion . It appears that Buckell, in trying to come up with his plot, had the thought: "Rastafarians versus Aztecs" pop into his head and just went with it.
• None of the flora and fauna on this alien world are truly “alien”. The jungle is full of terrestrial creatures like monkeys and parrots, but nothing that is “otherworldly”.
• Since they live on the same land mass, the total separation of the two cultures is a little too contrived. The Wicked High Mountain range spans the entire center of the continent from coast to coast and is supposedly impassable except for one heavily guarded spot. Landing by boat is out since the coastline is either full of dangerous reefs that make navigation difficult or it’s far too rocky and mountainous to land on. Both sides have dirigibles, yet it seems that building a fleet of dirigibles to invade by air didn’t dawn on the Aztecas.
• I don’t fully buy the idea that things would still be so low tech 300 years later. Consider the tech level of our world 300 years ago (in 1717) and how far we've advanced in those years. Even if all tech was trashed, the survivors would still have the knowledge behind it and their descendants could always reverse engineer things based on whatever artifacts have survived. More than anything else, it just seems like Buckell wanted to write a steam-punk novel and this was the only way he could think of making it semi-plausible.

This is a book where it’s best not to dwell upon things too much and just go with it. The story moves fast and the Caribbean influenced culture of Nanagada is a refreshing change of pace. Interestingly, the vast majority of the characters in the novel are people of color, but you wouldn't get that idea by the lily white people depicted on the book's cover. The man with the hook on the cover is one of the main characters and, in the book, he's black. I'm a little curious if that was a marketing decision or just an oversight.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,517 reviews10.9k followers
July 28, 2009
4.0 to 4.5 stars. Excellent debut novel. Fantastic world-building (much of which is only hinted at or briefly disclosed in this novel), great characters (with "Pepper" going on the list of one of the best characters of recent years) and a good story. Recommended.
Profile Image for Paul.
27 reviews5 followers
May 13, 2011
Uniqueness can be a difficult thing to find in fantasy literature, as most novels follow the general archetypes. The medieval English setting established in the Sir Thomas Malory’s classic “Le Morte d’Arthur” has been grossly overused in the genre. So it is immensely refreshing to discover a fantasy/sci-fi novel that revolves around a Caribbean/South American type of setting. Creativity is a wonderful thing.

“Crystal Rain”, the strong debut novel by Tobias S. Buckell, is a unique hybrid that attempts to be something special. And in making such an ambitious attempt, the novel distinguishes itself. You likely will not forget a novel that is a hybrid of fantasy and science fiction elements, where the characters talk like Caribbean islanders, alien gods patrol the land, and the Azteca are the invading force. (And if you do forget it, I want your reading list.) Buckell is to be commended for not playing it safe, and rehashing the same tired fantasy genre clichés.

The novel is set in the Caribbean-styled Nanagada, a peninsula protected by a mountain range, the Wicked Highs, on the landed side. Almost immediately, the brutal Azteca have invaded Nanagada, seeking blood and human sacrifice to satiate their gods. John deBrun lives with his wife Shanta and son Jerome outside of the town of Brungstun in the shadow of the Wicked Highs. Soon they find themselves caught in the battle with the Azteca, becoming separated from each other in the confusion. John, who has no memory of his life prior to arriving in Nanagada twenty-seven years earlier, is saved from being a sacrifical lamb by the Aztecan mongoose man, Oaxyctl. Together they travel to Capitol City, the governmental and major population center of Nanagada, meager steps ahead of the advancing Azteca army. Meanwhile, John’s son Jerome is saved by the mysterious Pepper, a dreadlocked badass who is searching for John, claiming to be an old friend. Pepper oozes more violence and menace than the evening news. On reaching Capitol City, John discovers he is an instrumental part in the plan to stop the Azteca invasion. Somewhere within John’s forgotten memories, he has knowledge of the Ma Wi Jung, an artifact that may save the Nanagadans. Can John regain his lost memories and save the Nanagadans? And who is Pepper and what is his interest in John? What is Oaxyctl’s real agenda?

The pacing of “Crystal Rain” is swift with the majority of the chapters only being a few pages long. The story mainly evolves through action, drawing the reader quickly through novel. The biggest negative to this lightning-fast pace is a lack of more extensive cultural information about the world; the world-building is unfortunately minimal other than a moderate amount of physical description of Nanagada. There are so many interesting cultural and religious aspects about the Nanagadans and the Azteca that could have been further explored by Buckell. But he misses the opportunity. This is a fantasy setting that screams for a more extensive examination. Sacrificing the pace for a more complete Nanagada would have been worth it. Considering the novel’s pacing, the characters are well-drawn. Pepper really jumps off the page; the mystery surround him being one of the most intriguing aspects of “Crystal Rain”. He was the one character I most wanted to read about, not only in this book but in future books.

The uniqueness of “Crystal Rain” makes it a strong debut for Buckell, but it could have been special if the pacing had been sacrificed for more world-building. When you create a setting this amazing, it is natural for the to want to explore it more thoroughly. And it is in wanting more from this novel that makes “Crystal Rain” an overall success.

Last Word:
“Crystal Rain” is a worthy read, filled with a unique setting and fresh creativity. Fast paced action and short chapters will have the reader ripping through the story, but a lack of in-depth world-building keeps the book from achieving more. Ultimately, “Crystal Rain” is oozing with potential. And my sincere hope of Buckell eventually fulfilling that potential has me eagerly anticipating his next novel even more.
Profile Image for The Flooze.
756 reviews248 followers
February 21, 2010
With Crystal Rain, Buckell creates a crazy mish-mash of fantasy, myth, and sci-fi. All of which is wrapped up in the enigma: Who the heck is John deBrun?

He's a man with a hook. A fisherman. A family man. But he must be so much more since gods, spies, and a strange guy in a top hat are all hunting for him. The different factions think John can provide important information, but all he has is a case of amnesia.

The mystery of his true identity ties all the story threads together, but it's not the only engaging aspect. Buckell flips focus between John's journey and the events in Capitol City. The people there are readying themselves for invasion by the Azteca--a fierce breed of warriors whose gods demand blood sacrifices. It's General Haidan's task to beat the enemy back, while Prime Minister Dihana tries to prevent chaos from erupting within the walled Capitol City.

Coming from a person whose eyes glaze over at in-depth discussion of military tactics, I thought Buckell offered just the right amount of insight into the war preparations. I could well imagine the advancing forces, the defensive line, and the high tension of the people. The story is never bogged down by details. Instead, I could feel the pressure these two authority figures endured as they raced against time.

Buckell also includes a harrowing voyage at sea, another aspect that proved surprisingly engaging. Again, he provides just the right balance. He focuses on the pitch of the waves, the crew's uncertainty, the tedium, and the daunting elements. He captures the hardships without making me feel like I enrolled in Sailing 101.

The efficient storytelling shows itself in additional tidbits that make the landscape whole and the story rich. The setting, Nanagada, is a land with strong Caribbean and South American influences. Its people speak in an island cadence (which took a little getting used to). The gods are the Tetol and the Loa, names implying Aztec and Hatian ancestry. History is learned through bedtime stories of the old-fathers and a distant place called Earth. John's wife begins all her stories with: "I see, I bring, but I ain't responsible." The people know their tales are warped by embellishments or lost information, but even so a picture of space travel is clear. Match this with a landscape littered with long-forgotten tech and a greater mystery than John's identity develops: What brought these people to this planet? If they were capable of space travel, what drove them back to more primitive ways of life?

Buckell's world-building is refreshing. In a genre dominated by conquering white guys, his dreadlocked heroes stand apart. Moreover, it's fascinating to see tradition reassert itself once the trappings of tech are gone. These people lead simple lives, and few seem disturbed at the knowledge they've lost. They are content with farming and fishing, saving up money for Carnival, and telling stories of good and evil.

By the end of the story, Buckell has answered the most pressing questions of who and why. I didn't think he could pack all of that into this one volume, but he does so with the same efficiency displayed throughout. The only question left is: What next? I'm eager to find out.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,230 reviews1,005 followers
December 12, 2014
An entertaining, quick-moving sci-fi adventure.
John deBrun suffers from amnesia. He has no idea where he's from or who he used to be. He was found by the inhabitants of Nanagada, descendants of Caribbean emigrants, and taken into their community. After time, he has made a rewarding life for himself, married a woman that he loves and had a son.

Do you think this peace and happiness is going to last? (All together now: "NO!")

Soon enough, it's discovered that the brutal and warlike Azteca have tunneled under the mountain range separating their territory from those of the Caribbean-style people. Invasion is imminent.

And suddenly, everyone seems to be interested in John deBrun. An Aztec double-agent wants to kidnap and torture him. Alien 'gods' known as Loa and Teotl, also imply that he's important. And then, the cyber-soldier Pepper shows up, claiming that he knows deBrun from a time back in his forgotten past.

Chaos is about to erupt...

OK, I can suspend disbelief to accept that Caribbean emigrants might preserve elements of their culture, as described here, for hundreds of years. However, there's absolutely no explanation provided here as to where the Aztecs (neo-Aztecs?) came from. That made me go "Hmm." (I felt the same way when reading the sequel to this book, Ragamuffin, which I accidentally read first).
The amnesia plot element is a bit played out.

Still, it's a fun and enjoyable story.

Profile Image for Neal Asher.
Author 119 books2,698 followers
February 24, 2012
Well, for various reasons I’ve not been reading as much as usual, and my ‘to read’ pile has been stacking up. First on my list upon returning to it was Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell. It’s always a little worrying reading a book by an author you’ve had contact with since you always feel the urge to say something nice even if you don’t mean it. I’ve tried to hammer down on that over the last few years. Now I will only comment on a book if it is one that grabs me and keeps me focused on it throughout; one I’ll read in preference to doing just about anything else. I’m happy to say that Crystal Rain is such a book. It’s got all the stuff I like: a bastard superhuman immortal, cruel rip-your-guts-out aliens, action, characters I cared about and a good story. If you like my stuff, I rather think you’ll like this too.
Profile Image for Neil.
Author 2 books45 followers
August 16, 2009
This is first rate SF, blending exciting action with interesting ideas in a plot that is paced beautifully. Buckell fits a lot into these 350 pages.

It's difficult to reveal much plot, because the author does such a nice job of slowly unveiling the history of his characters and world throughout the book. A man named John DeBrun who lives with his wife and son in a small jungle village on an island world called Nanagada has a rough past. He led a seafaring voyage north on behalf of his government in search of old technologies and returned from those lands as the only survivor of the expedition with a hook in place of a lost hand and some ugly memories. A few years prior to that, he can't remember his life at all. As the novel opens, his years of rest in the jungle come to an end as the Azteca people, led by priests and even a few of their gods, break through the Nanagadan mountain defenses and invade.

Nanagada is an unusual SF setting, based on the Caribbean. One gripe with the publisher: why the white guys in the picture on the cover? Give readers more credit. We'll still buy the book if the protagonists have brown or yellow skin and frankly, the genre needs the diversity. I've stumbled across a few of the author's blogs online, I'm sure he'd agree, probably make the argument even more strongly than I will.

Buckell unveils John's past, that of another powerful man named Pepper, and the history of Nanagada carefully, letting another piece of the puzzle drop every few chapters. I'm not going to give away anymore, but it's worth the wait.
Profile Image for Linda Nagata.
Author 94 books575 followers
May 19, 2011
I love adventure stories, and this is an all-out adventure with airships, steam-augmented sailing ships, spacecraft, war, a range of settings that includes city, ocean, jungle, arctic, and alpine, and great characters, some with their own mysteries that are gradually untangled. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Scott Marlowe.
Author 16 books133 followers
October 1, 2017


*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell is the first novel of Buckell's set in his Caribbean-style sci-fi world. Buckell himself is a native of that region of the world, though he now resides in landlocked Ohio. You can follow the author on his blog. Buckell contributed a Pepper story to the Seeds of Change anthology, of which I received an advanced reader copy and reviewed. I also previously reviewed Sly Mongoosewhich is the third novel (and I believe last as the publisher decided to not move forward with anymore novels set in this world) in Buckell's Caribbean sci-fi series.

Events in Crystal Rain are such that Caribbean natives come to a far-off world to colonize and are then trapped there when the wormhole that they arrived through is closed. It's either that or face annihilation from an alien enemy. The mechanism which closes the wormhole also renders inert most technology, so the world is set back into a traditional Caribbean way of life, though there are elements of steampunk in the form of steam-powered watercraft and airships.

Much of the story told in Crystal Rain revolves around John deBrun, a man who arrived on the planet under mysterious circumstances and who doesn't remember anything prior to his arrival. That was some twenty years ago. As the novel opens, another stranger to this world arrives, a cyborg named Pepper. Genetically modified to fight the ancient alien enemy which forced them to close the wormhole those hundreds of years ago, Pepper has come looking for John. John soon learns that Pepper holds the key to his past, and that their destinies are woven together whether John deBrun likes it or not.

Crystal Rain is an enjoyable read, but I couldn't help but feel it was missing something. The character of John deBrun is hard to pin down; he's interesting, but ultimately feels flat. The same goes for many of the other characters with the exception of Pepper who was the most interesting of all. Sadly, the novel is really about John, though Pepper gets his fair share of narration.

The title of the novel seemed a bit misplaced to me. It refers to snow, which the people of the novel experience only when an expedition ventures far north. Perhaps there is some deeper meaning here which I missed.

Overall, Crystal Rain is a good read, but I'm not overly compelled to go read Ragamuffin, the next in the series. I did, however, enjoy reading Sly Mongoose, which is a story that centers around Pepper.
Profile Image for Adrian Halpert.
136 reviews1 follower
May 12, 2019
A fantastic debut novel by Tobias Buckell!
The story takes place on a distant planet called Nanagada and is about the descendants of the Aztecs, appropriately called the Azteca, launching an attack on the descendants of Caribbean settlers on the planet. In a desperate move to stop the Azteca, an expedition, led by the mysterious John deBraun, heads north to find a fabled weapon that could be their only chance to halt the attack. All the while, mysterious alien beings lurk in the background, manipulating and plotting.
The author grew up in the Caribbean and boy does it show. The detail given to the fishing towns, sailing, the character's accents and more are incredible. Personally, I always enjoy reading SF that breaks the traditional boundaries of Anglo centered SF and gives us a fresh perspective, which is here in spades. Not only do we get to delve into a world modeled on Caribbean culture, but as I mentioned, the Aztecs, one of history's most intriguing cultures, are here as well. I was thrilled!
Buckell also does a great job of weaving a strong mythology into the story, a key component for good world building. We're given the history of Nanagada through hints and dialogue that tell us that the colonization and early history of the planet has become a hazy memory in the eyes of the inhabitants, giving it a very mythical, almost surreal feel. In the background, alien creatures called the Loa and Teotl try to manipulate events in their respective interests. We know very little about them, which also lends itself to an air of mystery and myth. The mysteries and mythology added an extra layer to this story that kept me wanting to learn more about what was going on, the sign of a great book!
As much as I enjoyed the focus on Caribbean and Aztec cultures I this story, I couldn't help but wonder at their apparent lack of cultural evolution after migrating to a different planet and meeting alien species, who intermingle with them on a daily basis. The Aztecs here seem to be taken directly from Bernal Diaz' The Conquest of New Spain, as if none of the background events of the story had ever taken place. I find this hard to believe. Keep in mind though, this is a minor point from a finicky reader and it did not undermine my overall enjoyment at the inclusion of the Aztecs or this terrific book.
All in all, this was a fantastic debut and I would heartily recommend it. I can't wait to read more from this author!
4/5 Stars
Profile Image for Tim Hicks.
1,474 reviews116 followers
June 9, 2011
3.5 stars, really. There are plenty of good ideas here, and some interesting characters. As a first novel, it's very good.

But something about it wasn't quite right. Perhaps it's that despite the unique ideas, large parts of what followed from each idea seemed predictable.

"John, you have to go north." "Don't wanna." Ha. As if there was ever any chance that he wouldn't.

Perhaps - and this is not Buckell's fault - I have had enough of "We're surrounded by a vastly superior force! We're doomed! Well, there is just one small chance ...". The only worse SF plot clunker is "young X is unappreciated and misunderstood, but he will soon learn that only he can save the universe from the evil Zzzzz - if only he can overcome his own doubts" (or she, of course)

Perhaps I'm a tad disappointed that two characters are pushed to the point of certain death, only to be saved by high-tech. SF authors, can we all agree to stop using the autodoc as a plot device? It's too close to what happens after Daffy Duck gets blasted by a cannon from a foot away, then shakes off the powder burns and is unhurt.

I've also read far too many books lately in which some characters are hundreds of years old, yet don't seem any different.

The aliens were a little too unrevealed. They seem immensely capable in some areas, but very limited in others. I fear that they are going to be unveiled later in the series as having some power that, once again, is going to be way too close to magic.

Of course, I am still disappointed by the Superman movie in which he spins the earth backward to make something unhappen.

Nevertheless, he's built an interesting world and I will probably read Ragamuffin to see where he takes it. And if he writes different books, I'll read them too.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Brownbetty.
342 reviews163 followers
September 21, 2008
I did not realize that Ragamuffin was the sequel to this one, but it quickly became obvious to me. It wasn't too much of a problem; they're both capable of standing on their own. It was a bit odd to know the eventual fate of the characters, though.

In contrast with Ragamuffin, the characters in this one felt slightly more introspective. Part of that is because John deBrun has amnesia, and consequently spends a fair amount of time wondering about himself. Pepper seems more roguish and dangerous (at one point he's taken for Baron Samedi) than psychopathic and genocidal, with the result that he's slightly more likable in this one. I notice that the Amazon review describes this book as "at times overly violent", but it seemed to me a kinder and gentler book than Ragamuffin, and I would not describe either as 'overly' violent, although both are certainly very violent.

Crystal Rain spends more time with the societies that have developed in isolation, and Buckell has obviously imagined them in greater detail than the book gave him room to show. Good if you like clashes of civilizations, extrapolated societies, and moderately amoral protagonists. The only that that would have made me happier would have been a few more female characters; as it is, it squeaks through the Bechdel test.
Profile Image for Rachel.
118 reviews5 followers
March 26, 2008
This book has many good ideas, and is well researched at a cultural level (its Rastas Vs. Aztecs as they have colonized a planet in the future but lapsed into circa 1900s tech because of some apocolyptic event).

The main character is John DeBrun and he's multidimensional, and interesting. He's somewhat unique in that he is a father and not a teen doing self-discovery.

Also, the Aztec gods are creepy aliens, and the only way to fight them is when you have bionic implants.

But the pacing lags because so much in the story is dependent on one event in the end, which we know is coming. I could have stood some time compression, because we end up with a lot of time skipping and being told more people have died! to the point we don't care.

Also, the cultural stuff is so good, when the bionics/scifi stuff drops in the scifi feels unsupported, not detailed enough, and a little rubberstamped. Also the evil aliens need a little more detail so they don't come off as simply being kidnapped from an Aliens flick with Sigourney Weaver.

Despite this, it is a pretty good first novel from this author. It was funny, scary, and interesting in turns. Also makes me want to settle on a planet colonized by Rastas, because they have such a good time.
Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,419 reviews537 followers
January 23, 2014
The Azteca have finally found a way across the Wicked High Mountains and are descending upon Capital City, slaughtering all the Nanagadans that get in their way. The young mayor of Capital City has plans, but all they will do is delay the Azteca. The Nanagandans' only hope is that the explorer John deBrun can find a mythical artifact from long ago, the Ma Wi Jung. Helping John is the bioengineered (to be AWESOME) Pepper, while an Azteca spy skulks undetected in hopes of hindering their quest.

The writing is simple and clunky, and I had a hard time with the Caribbean style dialog. (ex: "Only one airship now. But just you wait. Soon it go be another. And when they see where we is, they go build a boat to come for we.") That said, I adore Pepper, who is fearsome and gruesome and unstoppable, and this book delivers some great moments from him as well as a hint at who he was before. Best of all is the world-building. A colony that loses its tech over time and comes to revere its technologically advanced forefathers as gods is nothing new, but the alien spins Buckell adds to the story are scary and fascinating.
3,035 reviews10 followers
April 28, 2008
I picked up Crystal Rain because I happened upon the sequel, and wanted to read this one first. Now that I understand how little connection there is between the two, I'm not certain that it helped. I still don't understand why the police of this world are called "Ragamuffins"...
The basic premise is that a very odd combination of human ethnic groups ended up settling a colony planet, then got cut off from Earth. Aliens, who were at the heart of the reason for them being cut off, molded the different ethnic groups, shaping them for their own ends. Neither set of aliens were actually good guys, just some much worse than the others.
What I had the most difficulty with was the group of humans who were guided into being bloodthirsty Aztec warriors, literally becoming holy warriors on behalf of powerful alien beings posing as gods. The story of why the aliens would do it that way just didn't make a lick of sense to me.
On the other hand, it was an exciting adventure story, with a convoluted-but-convincing resolution that left readers with a long-term cliffhanger ending.
Profile Image for Mitchell.
4,511 reviews169 followers
July 31, 2017
Interesting read. Basically Aztec Gods as aliens on a distant colony world stuck behind a destroyed wormhole. I apparently read book in this series some time ago and I guess I didn't realize it was part of a series, even a loose one. It had interesting pacing, readable but slow. And the interesting technology was almost always just barely off screen. There was also some pretty definite use of a Caribbean dialect. Nothing about this really blew me away. But it hints of possibilities in an author that I continue to follow.
September 4, 2011
Bra bok. Först förleddes jag att tro att det var en fantasy-historia, men efter ett tag visade det sig att "gudarna" var aliens och den primitiva civilisationen är resterna efter mänskliga rymdfarare/kolonisatörer som förlorat all avancerad teknik.
Boken är lite seg att komma in i, delvis för att den historiska bakgrunden inte kommer fram förrän ganska sent, och delvis pga korta kapitel vilket gör det lätt att lägga ned boken efter att ha bara läst ett par sidor.
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,937 reviews427 followers
April 8, 2015
Confusingly either an alternate Caribbean/Aztec set sci-fi or a steampunk militia fantasy without much world building. It tends to drift. Not written well and whilst I appreciate the dialogue was supposed to make you feel like they couldn't speak "English" well, it was just jarring and unnecessary. Didn't get that far, but apparently John's hand grows back once he regains his memory? Like a man with one hand can ever have a full memory? Or a full life?
Profile Image for Craig.
4,896 reviews111 followers
May 23, 2007
An excellent sf adventure that examines some traditional genre tropes and icons with a fresh, new-wave style. The only complaint I had was that the dialog of one group of characters was reproduced in a dense patois that slowed the reading down considerably. Nonetheless, this one is well worthwhile.
Profile Image for Red.
501 reviews9 followers
October 2, 2008
I enjoyed this story overall. It took a while to really get going, but once things started the action continued. There was a bit of a mystery, a lot of action and some science mixed in. A little too much politics for my taste. But I liked his writing style okay, and I'd read more of his work.
Profile Image for Peter Bradley.
889 reviews48 followers
June 11, 2017
Please give my review a helpful vote - https://www.amazon.com/review/R17N3H8...

Pepper has been looking to get off of the collapsed human colony world he has been stranded on for a long time. All that stands in his way is an invasion by a revived Aztec empire led by their horrific, blood-seeking gods. Fortunately, Pepper is uniquely qualified to deal with such inconveniences.

I listened to this book as an audiobook and it blew me away. I have been reading science fiction for fifty years. This book brought me back to the science fiction I read in my youth with captivating cultures and strange worlds. The author Tobias Buckell has put together the oddest cultural mash-up imaginable. The colony world seems to have one large habitable continent. The portion north of the "Wicked Highs" is Nanagada. Nanagada is under the control of a culture derived from the islands of the West Indies. This gives a lot of characters a colorful Jamaican accent. Nanagada seems to be a nice place with a lot of diversity and people who enjoy fishing and farming and a reasonable level of technological development.

South of the Wicked Highs, however, is Azteca, where the ancient culture of the Aztecs, with its Flower Wars and human sacrifice, has been reinstituted by "gods" known as the Teotl. The Teotl are aliens who want to conquer Nanagada and kill their ancient enemy in Nanagada, known as the Loa.

The story rips forward from the beginning of the Azteca invasion of Nanagada. We are introduced to John de Brun and his family on the eve of the invasion. The family is separated from each other by the invasion. There are near escapes abounding as John makes his way to Capitol City. In Capitol City, we meet Edward Haidan, who is the chief of the "Mongoose Men," Nanagada's bush-based military, and Dihana, who is the mayor of Capital City. The duty to defend the last vestige of decent civilization falls to these two. Into the mix we meet the mysterious Pepper, who is simply the most dangerous man in any world.

We gradually come to learn that Nagada is a devolved colony world. There was a war between humans, Teotl and Loa a long time ago. There is technology up for grabs that may determine the outcome of the Azteca invasion, and, maybe, the fate of human civilization beyond Nangada.

From start to finish, the book moves along with energy and excitement, revealing just enough to keep the reader tantalized by what is left unrevealed.

Buckel has done a good job of thinking out things like wormholes and nanotechnology. This is a refreshing bit of Golden Age writing with Jamaican spice. As a lifetime science fiction reader, I recommend this book.
Profile Image for Geoffrey Allan Plauché.
Author 3 books20 followers
February 28, 2012
[My rating, if GoodReads allowed half-stars: 3.5 stars.]

Steampunk is currently all the rage, but this book was published before steam engines and airships and whatnot became recently fashionable. And besides, Crystal Rain (Tor, 2007) is not your ordinary steampunk. It has a healthy dose of post-apocalyptic science fiction as well, but here too Crystal Rain breaks the mold. On the one hand, the setting includes sailboats and airships, gaslights, firearms, and, mostly in Capitol City, steam-powered trains, cars, and even a ship, and trolly-like electric cars. I don't recall any conspicuous leather, aviation goggles, brass, or clockwork though. On the other hand, we quickly find out that this story takes place centuries after some cataclysmic disaster. There are near-mythical stories of the "old fathers," and Preservationists seek to restore lost technologies. A barren area inland called Hope's Loss causes people who travel through it to sicken and die. To add another twist, we quickly discover the story takes place not on Earth, but some distant planet, by the casual description of two moons in the sky and tales of the old fathers traveling to the land of Nanagada via "worm's holes" and warming the planet with mirrors in the sky that have since crashed and burned. Turns out Nanagada is a lost colony planet. Caribbean-born author Tobias Buckell adds spice to the mix by populating the setting of his debut novel with a collection of mostly non-white races, dominated by Caribbean culture and dialect.

Actually, the first hints that you're not reading the typical steampunk or post-apocalyptic novel come in the prologue when a mysterious black man with dreadlocks, dressed in top hat and trenchcoat, falls out of the sky in a "steaming metal boulder," speaks gibberish to the natives for a minute, then after manipulating his throat suddenly speaks their language. He appears tired and thin, weak, so the natives take him back to their village -- though he has strength left in him to kill a jaguar effortlessly with his bare hands on the way. After a week of pigging out, he's all buffed out. All he tells them is that he's looking for an old friend. This mysterious, superhuman figure we later find out to be Pepper, who features in several subsequent novels and short stories by Buckell. The author handles him well. Pepper has his limits, which are tested in the novel, and while he often appears to be a "looking out for #1," cold-blooded mercenary-type, Buckell manages to give him a depth that defies expectations.

But the main protagonist of Crystal Rain is the man Pepper is looking for: John deBrun. John is a sailor, fisherman, and painter, with a hook in place of the left hand that he lost to frostbite on an ill-fated excursion to the icy north. He remembers nothing of his past from before he washed ashore  27 years prior in the town of Brungstun near the Wicked High Mountains that separate the Nanagadan Peninsula from the rest of the continent. But he has an uncanny ability to navigate, as if he has a GPS in his head. He has settled down there, married, and has a 13-year old son. Oh, and he doesn't seem to have aged much in those 27 years.

Little do most know at the start, but the Azteca, who live on the other side of the Wicked Highs, are being driven by their bloodthirsty gods, the Teotl, to cross the mountains and invade Nanagada. Another main viewpoint character, Oaxyctl (O-ash-k-tul), who is actually an Aztecan double agent spying for the Nanagadans, has the bad luck to be accosted by one if his gods and tasked with tracking down John deBrun and delivering him to it or else Oaxyctl's life will be forfeit. The Teotl needs John alive because it believes he alone possesses secret codes to unlock the Ma Wi Jung. Whatever that is. (Heh. Is John "The Chosen One"?) Oaxyctl is placed in an impossible position: mortally afraid of his gods, still fundamentally an Aztecan despite working for the Nanagadans, he later comes to like John, whom he rescues from an Aztecan war party's sacrificial altar after John had been separated from his family and captured. Buckell keeps us wondering when, or if, Oaxyctl will betray John's trust.

Other viewpoint characters include John's son, Jerome, the hereditary Prime Minister (an oxymoron?) of Nanagada, Dihana, and the general of Nanagada's military (called mongoose-men), Haidan. The latter two have hard work to do and tough decisions to make after they find about the Azteca invasion. As one might expect from a government official in wartime, Dihana enacts some rather unlibertarian policies: e.g., seizing businesses; shutting down banks; declaring emergency conditions; setting curfews; turning the Tolteca (expat Aztecan) section of Capitol City into an internment camp, which of course alienates potential allies. Aside from his expected duties as general in planning the Nanagadan defenses, Haiden discovers the whereabouts of a possible superweapon left over from the time of the old fathers. It may be their only hope, so he exerts a great deal of effort to organizing an expedition to find it and plying Dihana for support and diverted resources.

John eventually reaches Capitol City with Oaxyctl's help, ahead of the Azteca hords. He desperately wants to get involved in the fighting to take revenge on the Azteca, but his old friend General Haiden convinces him to make another journey up north in search of the aforementioned lost weapon of the old fathers. He is to captain a new "state of the art" steamship to which tank treads can be attached so that it can traverse the ice. Prior to leaving, he meets Pepper briefly but is suspicious because he does not remember the man who claims to know him, and subsequent events lead him to vacillate between trusting and distrusting this dangerous man.

[Read the full review.]
Profile Image for Jim Mann.
596 reviews2 followers
May 29, 2019
On Nanagada, the descendants of Earth settlers live with relatively low technology and with only distorted memories of their past. They are basically divided into two groups: those who live on the peninsula of Nanagada, including Capital City -- many who are descendants of islands cultures on Earth -- and the Azteca, from over the Wicked High Mountains, who practice human sacrifice in honor of their living gods. As the book starts, an Azteca invasion of Nanagada has started, and the main character, John deBrun, has been rescued from capture by someone he doesn't realize is an Azteca spy ordered by his gods to capture John and learn the code he supposedly knows to an ancient technology the Azteca gods want.

There is a lot going on here, and the backstory that slows unfolds over the course of the book has a lot of detail. There is more to John that first meets the eye, as there is to his friend, of sorts, Pepper, a super-soldier of sorts who hooks up with John and joins on his quest.

Buckle has created a fascinating, and different world, complete with several alien cultures as well a a interesting and diverse human culture. His characters are interesting and at book's end I want to know more about them and of what happens next in their universe.
Profile Image for Michael.
996 reviews38 followers
November 19, 2017
This is the first book in the "Xenowealth" series by Tobias S. Buckell. When I read this one the phrase, "And now for something completely different", came to mind. In this one colonists from Earth who are primarily of Caribbean descent are living north of the "Wicked Highs" mountains. They are being attacked by the descendants of South American peoples called the Azteca who live south of the mountains. They have been cut off from Earth for many hundreds of years and most technology has been destroyed or lost. Both people's are being influenced by the remains of warring aliens who have convinced both sides that they are Gods. Some of the humans who still live however are the survivors of the original colonists who have extended life spans due to the medical technology that was one time available. John deBrun is one of them but he has lost most of his memories of the past. When his village is attacked and his wife is killed and his son is missing he knows that he must find a way to find some of the lost technology and save his people. Even if it means reviving his lost memories and once again becoming the man he once was.
Profile Image for Lance Schonberg.
Author 27 books25 followers
March 2, 2020
While I had some small issues with the consistency of presentation of our primary POV character, the story worked for me, building with a good pace towards a great climax on a world that's well-realized enough both physically and culturally that you can feel the differences between here and there.

Not sure why it took me so long to get to this one - it's been on the shelf in the TRQ for several years waiting for me - but I enjoyed it enough that I may need to add the other books in the series to the list.
Profile Image for Marshall.
40 reviews
July 3, 2022
The concept of aliens controlling a technologically-regressed human civilizations as gods - framed from the bug's-eye view of the unaware humans - is interesting, but not well executed. A lot of the dialog and character writing feels stilted, and at one point I considered stopping. If you're into the type of 1920s adventure novels with airships and contact with strange cultures parodied in the movie "Up", and really like the concept, you might find it enjoyable. If you're not really into that scene, it might not be too satisfying.
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