Aliette de Bodard brings us a new novella set in the award-winning, critically acclaimed Xuya universe!
Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.
A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow's Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow's Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow's Child with her.
As they dig deep into the victim's past, The Shadow's Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau's own murky past--and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars...
Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris. She has won three Nebula Awards, an Ignyte Award, a Locus Award, a British Fantasy Award and four British Science Fiction Association Awards, and was a double Hugo finalist for 2019 (Best Series and Best Novella).
Her most recent book is Fireheart Tiger (Tor.com), a sapphic romantic fantasy inspired by pre colonial Vietnam, where a diplomat princess must decide the fate of her country, and her own. She also wrote Seven of Infinities (Subterranean Press), a space opera where a sentient spaceship and an upright scholar join forces to investigate a murder, and find themselves falling for each other. Other books include Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders and its standalone sequel Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances, (JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc.), fantasy books of manners and murders set in an alternate 19th Century Vietnamese court. She lives in Paris.
In the age of fantasy books of ridiculous lengths--why, hello, Way of Kings--and series that may never be finished--ah-hem, George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss--I've rediscovered my love of novellas. de Bodard has written an intriguing, sure to be award-nominated novella about a mind-ship hired by a brilliant, drug-addicted woman who wants to retrieve a dead body for study. Naturally, it turns out that it was no mere space-accident that caused the untimely death. When the shipmind, The Shadow's Child, takes the job, she finds herself confronting her own past. "But she'd lived through a war, an uprising and a famine, and she was done with diminishing herself to spare the feelings of others."
I wasn't expecting a Sherlock style construction, but the parallels soon became clear. Of course, it might have helped that I have been very slowly working my way through the recent Cumberbatch incarnation of Sherlock. Like the Moffat and Gatiss version, this somehow manages to retain a feeling of whimsy in the midst of fear, suspicion, self-doubt, and a mildly sociopathic lead. When I finished, I thought, "well, that was fun," but fun is not the right word, not quite. 'Satisfying' might be better. It pays tribute to the Sherlock format but does something so very different that it feels very new.
As always, I enjoy de Bodard's writing style. Complex and descriptive, well-suited to the challenge of the world and the story. "A middle-aged woman, with loose, mottled skin hanging loose on rib cage and pelvic bone, her shape already compressed into improbably angles by the pressures of unreality around her--she'd had a shadow skin to survive the vacuum of normal space, but of course it wouldn't have survived the plunge into deep spaces: the long, dark tatters of it streamed from her corpse like hair, or threads tying her to an impossibly distant puppet-master."
I was very intrigued by the setting, a pan-Asian future world in which people use mind-ships to travel through the deep reaches of space, but the world-building feels just this side of under-done. Though I eventually felt I had a working handle on the mind-ships, it wasn't early enough to make me feel like I understood all the subtext, or how A Shadow's Child could be so damaged. I'm motivated to track down some of her other works in this universe and learn more. I know she can be talented at world building; the Obsidian and Blood series (my review for the first), set in the pre-Colombian Aztec Empire, is immersive and fascinating.
On re-reading, I think that characterization could be improved somewhat, to make this an outstanding. The Shadow's Child ends up sounding a little too neurotic, with an ever-present anxiety. Anxious about money, about going into deep space, about the reliability of Long Chau, she felt barely functional or sympathetic. If you would like a reader to believe a ship can have a personality, it best be a semi-functional one, believable for competently managing existence through unseen depths of space and multiple human generations. In this, there is perhaps the most deviation from the Sherlock structure, with a Watson that is more irritably challenging and less an admiring echo.
The e-reader edition had some minor formatting issues that I would expect would be fixed, and a rare challenge in word choice or punctuation. More importantly, I'm not exactly sure if the science of the space stands up to reality (see streaming ribbons mentioned above), but I'm not one to be finicky about my space details. But I mention it for hard-core readers who might be.
This novella reads like the lovechild of Sherlock Holmes and the Ship Who Sang, dropped into a wormhole inside a space capsule made of Asian history. My first sample of de Bodard: while it is a part, or at least inside, of a longer series, and I suspect the world-building might make for a more leisurely unpacking if one started at the beginning novel, I thought this story worked just fine as a stand-alone.
Now I want to hunt up the proper beginning.
(Also, it turns out I like the new way of selling e-novellas ala carte as much as a reader as I do as a writer.)
Winner of a well-deserved Nebula award for best novella of 2018. 4.5 stars! Review first posted on Fantasy LiteratureFantasy Literature:
The Tea Master and the Detective, a novella nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo awards, is a delightful revisiting of the legendary Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson … if both were Asian women, and Watson was a genetically modified human that is the brains and heart of a transport warship. It’s set in Aliette de Bodard’s UNIVERSE OF XUYA ― also nominated for a Hugo for Best Series ― a “timeline where Asia became dominant, and where the space age has Confucian galactic empires of Vietnamese and Chinese inspiration,” per the author’s website.
The Shadow’s Child, a mindship, is suffering from long-term trauma after a tragedy led to the death of her crew and her own near-loss in the “deep spaces.” Discharged from military service several years ago, she’s barely able to support herself by concocting tea blends that contain individualized mixes of drugs enabling humans to withstand the weirdness and unreality of deep spaces, where mindships can travel faster than light. A new client, Long Chau, asks The Shadow’s Child for an unusual tea blend, one that will leave her functional in the deep spaces, so she can find a human corpse ― any corpse ― for her scientific study. The corpse they find (there are a fair number of dead mindships and human corpses floating around in the deep spaces) turns out to have died an unnatural death, and Long Chau’s curiosity is engaged. She begins an investigation, confident that she can achieve better results than the magistrate assigned to the case, and The Shadow’s Child is somewhat reluctantly pulled in as Long Chau’s assistant.
The worldbuilding in The Tea Master and the Detective is stellar. De Bodard has put a lot of thought and imagination into her Xuya universe, which consists of some thirty novellas and short stories at this point. So many of the details are unforgettable: the shipminds’ use of projected avatars to represent themselves in society; tiny, utilitarian bots hanging in a “jeweled cascade” from a woman’s shoulders or crawling on Long Chau’s face to send data back to The Shadow’s Child; a virtual reality display of food on a table where two shipminds are visiting, so they can enjoy the memories of long-ago feasts and friends. These and other vivid details made me feel truly immersed in this world.
I first encountered de Bodard’s mindships in her wonderful Nebula award-winning novelette "The Waiting Stars." The Shadow’s Child sheds a different light on these mindships, her wounded soul underscoring the dangers that face the intelligent mindships themselves as well as their passengers. There are a few nods here to the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet; Long Chau introduces herself as a “consulting detective” and has a drug addiction; The Shadow’s Child is still experiencing pain from armed conflicts in her past (echoing Dr. Watson’s health problems stemming from his participation in the Anglo-Afghan war).
The mystery relating to the corpse Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child find in the deep spaces is less memorable than the characters and the setting; I thought it was the weakest link in this story. A better mystery lies in Long Chau’s shrouded past, which The Shadow’s Child doggedly investigates on the side, especially after Long Chau dissects the shipmind’s psychological trauma with a few brief sentences. Long Chau’s deductions are worthy of Sherlock Holmes, using small scraps of evidence that most would overlook.
I’d love to see what further mysteries and adventures await Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child, but de Bodard has said (in an email to me) that they’re more likely to reappear as cameos than as the main characters in a future story. So I recommend that you get your Holmesian fix here in The Tea Master and the Detective, especially if you enjoy detective fiction or mysteries set in space.
Initial post: I just got a free review copy of this 2018 Nebula award nominated novella! *shoves other reads aside* I've loved some of the other stories Aliette de Bodard has written in her Xuya universe, so I have high hopes here.
The Shadow's Child, the brain of a mindship, is shellshocked and brewing teas for safer space travel when a consulting detective shows up at her door...
This was a Netgalley find and one of the few Netgalley finds that didn't immediately feel like a homnework assignment from a hated teacher.
Set in an asteroid belt with a Vietnamese-influenced culture, The Tea Master and the Detective has its roots loosely planted in A Study In Scarlet. Long Chau hires The Shadow's Child to brew her tea and take her into the deep spaces to find a corpse in order to study its composition. (Sidebar - From what I gather, the deep spaces are like hyperspace, a medium to speed up space travel. Special teas are needed to keep travelers sane during their journeys.) The body isn't quite what they expect and the mystery unfolds.
While the story shows its Sherlockian roots in places, that in no way diminishes the enjoyment. I really liked the asteroid belt settings, the deep spaces, hell, the worldbuilding in general. The worldbuilding is seamlessly done. I had a pretty good idea of the history of the world, the technology, and the culture, all without being beaten over the head with info dumps.
Recasting Watson as a ship's organic mind with a traumatic past was a novel approach and in keeping with the rest of the setting. I can honestly say The Shadow's Child is the most well-rounded ship's computer I've ever read about. You don't see the Enterprise's computer having dinner with the computers of other ships! Honestly, Long Chau's deductions and attitude are Sherlockian but she has a lot more depth than I originally thought. I loved the interplay between Long Chau and The Shadow's Child right away. Before I was even finished, I was dreaming of future stories featuring the pair.
Over the years, I've read a lot of detective stories based in other genres and most leave me yearning for gumshoes beating down doors or mannerly locked room mysteries. This one was the opposite of that. Five out of five stars.
This particular novella was a mix of Sherlock Holmes (only way better written than Doyle and with female main characters), McCaffery's The Ship Who... series, and Feist & Wurts Daughter of the Empire series.
Bodard is a master of artfully invested world building. She turns this story into a lyrical journey into space, as if the words themselves are overlaid with the serenity of a tea ceremony. Reading it felt restful and ritualized.
What is that st6ory? Well, a Brewer of Serenity (who also happens to be a troop transport shipmind with PTSD) is asked to mix up a very special tea for a space traveler. These teas allow human minds to withstand FTL transport. Only this customer has a tinkered mind and, perhaps, too many ulterior motives. She ends up transporting the traveler herself, and becomes enmeshed in a tangled galactic mystery.
A glorious spaceship/detective story in which the Holmes-style Consulting Detective is a woman in a Vietnamese-influenced future culture, and Watson is a traumatised sentient starship. Absolutely terrific novella, packing in wonderful ideas and images and a huge amount of humanity. Plus, what a lovely cover. I hope we will get a lot more of these, I wolfed it down and relished every sentence.
I'm actually pretty impressed with this one but I have one major complaint...
I feel like I'm missing a LOT of worldbuilding nuance here. I've never read any of her Xuya novellas and I feel the lack.
Sure, the whole mystery in space surrounded my Mindships that are pretty awesome is all pretty awesome, but the rather odd bits of Tea and special brews feel like they need a lot of backstory. Otherwise, I'm stuck just thinking about Ann Leckie's Raddich series. And maybe that's kind of a side-jab.
I found it rather fascinating in an Ian M. Banks kind of way, too.
And oddly, I'm more impressed with Bodard's SF than her Fantasy. I obviously need to keep an eye out for more of these.
Sherlock Holmes with a space opera twist...it works! An entertaining novella!
This is one of the most refreshing Sherlock Holmes-inspired tales. The space opera setting was such fun! The Watnsonesque character here is The Shadow's Child, a transport ship that lost its crew in a traumatic experience and now earns a living by brewing drugs to calm space travelers. The Shadow's Child's latest client is Long Chau, a brusque scholar who needs the brew to help her complete an assignment. The Shadow's Child becomes involved in Long Chau’s assignment, which may involve murder and a missing person. The Shadow's Child doesn’t entirely trust Long Chau, especially when it seems that she may have had a hand in this whole affair. The novella length makes this into a fast-paced and entertaining story. The writing is engaging, the setting is lively (i have a soft spot for reading space opera in ‘dark’ times), and the dynamic between Long Chau and The Shadow's Child had a real zing. I would love to read more about them, and perhaps see their partnership consolidate into a more meaningful companionship. I do not consider myself a big fan of Sherlock Holmes but the author here managed to improve on the og’s personalities and to freshen things up with a space opera setting (we have virtual realities, avatars, space travel, etc.). The mystery itself was the weakest aspect of the story but the author's storytelling kept me interested.
Taut, well-written, with excellent character work. It *is* a Holmes pastiche but it’s a lot more than that in practice. (In fact I think approaching it as a pastiche risks blinding a reader to the work’s own independent virtues, but the debt is there.)
If the mystery plot of this one had come together a little bit more strongly, I'd put this at 4.5 stars. I absolutely LOVED the characters, world, and themes of this! Particularly the concept of mindships and how they were integrated into the story really delivered for me
A tea expert who’s a sentient ship with trauma + an abrasive clever detective = Watson and Holmes retelling in a Vietnamese-influenced space future. Thoughtful and kind, with fantastic worldbuilding. I would definitely read another story with these characters. If this is on your TBR, move it up!
Sci-fi mystery with an enigmatic detective and a somewhat neurotic shipmind going into deep space in search of a corpse.
Delightfully quick read. Well written. I liked the chemistry between the two main characters. But I couldn't shake the feeling that much of the worldbuilding is happening somewhere else.
And indeed, this is part of a series. Though Goodreads is a bit confusing about that, as it mentions 41 other works in this universe, not all of them having a discrete GR entry. In the book itself, though, there's only mention of two previous books. On a Red Station, Drifting and The Citadel of Weeping Pearls.
I suppose this is more fun when one has read at least those two before.
Without prior knowledge of the two previous novellas, 3.5 stars.
Winner of the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novella 2019 Hugo finalist for Best Novella
Vietnamese-flavored Sherlock Holmes IN SPACE, except that Sherlock's a woman and Watson's a spaceship. This novella should have been right up my alley, but I didn't care for the style or the slow pace, and the characters just didn't gel with me. Not my thing, but maybe it's yours.
Also, damn it, one arrives at deductions by deducing, not by deducting.
a Vietnamese-inspired futuristic space opera, reimagined from Sherlock Holmes following a mind ship and a detective on a deep space investigation.
i really enjoyed the characters! definitely get the Sherlockian inspiration. the mystery plot itself isn't super engaging and with it being only a little over 90 pages, it's fairly easy to see where it's going, but the world-building and characterization is truly where this story shines. the world-building is so cool and unique and i loved how the story was told through the mind ship's perspective - The Shadow's Child, was her name. i was also impressed with how good the character arc was for such a short story. i wish there was more in this series!
Not really sure what to think of this one... A re-telling of A Study in Scarlet sounded exactly like my kind of thing, especially since set in a different universe.
The world building was indeed fascinating, as was the notion of shipminds and mind altering concoctions to alleviate space-travel. The Shadow’s Child’s voice was engaging and made me want to find out what was its story. The mystery was a good one and introduced the detective, someone who is of course rude, eccentric, and yes, brilliant.
However, I didn’t connect as much as I wanted with this story. Not sure why...
My first foray into the "silkpunk" (which is to East Asian antiquity what steampunk is to Victorian England) genre, and I must say I loved it! "The Tea Master and the Detective" is a wonderful pastiche of Sherlock Holmes in space - which is this nerd's wet dream!
In a little less than a hundred pages, Aliette de Bobard created a fascinating world where powerful families rule, not unlike Imperial Japan, and ships have living minds. One such AIs - The Shadow's Child - has the shipmind version of PTSD: she saw her crew die in deep space; she has since then refused to go too far from the Scattered Pearls Belt, and makes a meager living brewing teas for various patrons looking for custom mind-altering beverages. One day, the abrupt but brilliant Long Chau requests two things from her: a strong brew and assistance to go into deep space to find a cadaver. But the body they find raises more questions than they expected.
I was instantly immersed in this world and I simply adored the aesthetic and culture created by de Bobard. Long Chau's Sherlockian demeanor (drug addiction included) struck the perfect note to complement the Shadow's Child's damage. The richness of the images was palpable. This is an amazing novella: I wanted more of this world! Please, please, pretty please!
The world is chaotic and without sense. But in the smallest of spheres it's sometimes possible to straighten things out: to make it seem as though everything means something.
This small sphere of a novella was a most intriguing start to the series. The parallels to Sherlock Holmes are neither downplayed or built up to be intrusive, but instead provide a framework for a story set in an otherwise completely alien setting. This being a novella, the worldbuilding is present but necessarily minimal - that framework of familiarity did a lot to help me feel less discombobulated by the parts that could have used more attention.
Our titular tea master was a pleasant surprise, as well - much more human than expected from the mind of a ship designed to serve a family for hundreds of years, and certainly more vulnerable. The detective brings some of the traits we've come to expect from our Holmes, but also much more human than other writers have managed in some time, and to my mind better for it.
A short but enjoyable novella, one that's certainly managed to hook me on it's series.
Sherlock in space! Discharged from military service after a traumatic incident in deep space, the mindship The Shadow's Child is barely making ends meet blending drugs to her clients' individual specifications. Then infuriating, brilliant, and already-drugged-to-the-gills Long Chau hires her to find a corpse in deep space for a study in decomposition. This plan goes off the rails when they realize the corpse they picked up is probably not dead from natural causes...The duo seek to solve the case themselves, and along the way their prickly self-protective social defenses fade into mutual understanding and the beginnings of friendship.
This is very much "Sherlock" fanfic*, except this time they're women in the far future and Watson is a mindship. What exactly a mindship is I'm not entirely sure. From a mention of The Shadow's Child having a biological mother who brought her into the ship, I assumed it was a The Ship Who Sang situation in which a human baby is interfaced very early on with a spaceship. Frankly I'd have liked just a few more clues. I think overall I'd have liked a meatier story. I wanted to know far more about the universe they live in. The mystery was not much of a mystery: And the rapprochement between Long Chau and The Shadow's Child seemed to come swiftly and with little reason. So they each have a sense of morality; hardly a reason to be friends and solve cases together.
All of which makes it sound a bit negative, but really I quite liked this novelette and I'd look forward to reading far more in the universe. I just hope future stories are full on novels that don't lean so heavily on readers' existing knowledge of and affection for "Sherlock" characters.
*These characters and their relationship seemed very in tune with the BBC modern day adaptation, and not particularly in tune with the Arthur Conan Doyle stories.
Ahoy there me mateys! I received this sci-fi eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So here be me honest musings . . .
The cover drew me in and three things convinced me to read this book:
1) I previously read some of the author’s short stories and loved her writing style; 2) It is a Subterranean Press book and they do great work; and 3) One of the characters is a mindship . . .
This mindship, named The Shadow’s Child, is not just any ship. It was previously a military ship who physically survived an ambush and massacre but since retired from active duty and is suffering PTSD and struggling to make ends meet. One of the things the ship does to make money is brew special blends of tea. These teas are made to suit the drinker’s specific goals and body chemistry. One day a woman named Long Chau comes in and requests a serenity blend to focus her mind. The ship takes the needed money and finds itself not only involved in a crime investigation but also having to face deep space where the ship swore it would never enter again.
Apparently this book is part of a series of books and stories set in the Universe of Xuya. I had never read anything set in Xuya before. I found the world-building and characterizations to be fascinating. I absolutely loved the neurotic, damaged The Shadow’s Child and the story told from the ship’s perspective. I didn’t really care much about the crime story itself but was more focused on how the ship was dealing with a situation it didn’t care for. Long Chau is a purposefully unlikeable character who is trying to do the right thing.
Ultimately while I really enjoyed the story, I think I would like a longer work with more detailing of how the society functions and how the mindships work. But this character-driven piece was a good introduction to a new world that I hope to visit more often. Besides who doesn’t love mindships? Arrr!
Notes on 2nd reading: As seems to be common with me and Aliette de Bodard stories, I loved it even more on the second read. I continue to be completely enamored of the characters, settings, and stories in the Xuya universe.
Original review: I have a soft spot for creative Holmes & Watson retellings, and The Tea Master and the Detective is certainly that. The Watson character being an AI (one of the spaceship Minds, who are some of my favorite Xuya characters) was a cool touch, since it meant that she had the computing power to do a lot of investigating on her own. I did feel that the pacing was a bit off - while I liked the vivid descriptions in the first half, it was too slow-moving for the length, and the second half was too rushed - but this was a minor flaw in an otherwise fantastic novella. I continue to be amazed by the variety of stories and characters the author has created for this universe.
I've been hit-or-miss on de Bodard's short fiction before, but this novella was alright. It's an oddly Sherlockian futuristic premise, with our traumatised war veteran 'Watson' being cast as a ship's AI-human construct mind called The Shadow's Child, retired from military service and consigned to brewing tea for humans. And the consulting detective, with her deductive reasoning, is a stern woman dosed to the gills with drugs administered by her bots.
It's an interesting setting, this odd couple reluctantly teaming up to solve a murder, and The Shadow's Child recovering from the mental trauma of losing all her crew, and solving this mystery with a human that she doesn't quite like, and who seems far more inhuman than the ship itself.
However: I found myself mostly just missing the AIs from other sci fi? The Shadow's Child felt too, too human for it to actually hammer on my artificial intelligence feelings. I wound up missing Iain M. Banks' ship Minds from his Culture series, or even the issues of humanity & identity within Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch series (a series I don't actually like that much). It also reminded me a bit of David D. Levine's short story Damage, which features a traumatised fighter ship trapped in an interstellar war. Or, in terms of our main character/ship's PTSD, I kept thinking of CJ Cherryh's excellent Merchanter's Luck, where the entire plot has to tiptoe around the traumatised loss of his entire family, and that novel has enough room to stretch its legs so that you really really care about that loss, that grief, that recovery.
Which is a lot of me talking about other things that I wish this had been, instead. Because here, because of the short length, it's pretty rushed and everything tidily solved in a quick bow by the end.
But I do appreciate a futuristic setting where Asia became the dominant culture, and seeing Vietnamese culture stepping out into the stars, and the plot proceeds at a pretty decent clip. 2.5 stars, rounded up.
(My buddy Amanda also wisely mentions that this novella is yet another one that misses the point, rather, about Mr. Holmes. The closest it got to nailing it for me was the line: Long Chau seemed to alternate between flashes of singular consideration, and complete disregard of others' feelings. That consideration and sympathy fell by the wayside a bit too much, though, and it's unfortunately what most people seem to drop or forget in their Sherlockian adaptations.)
The Tea Master and The Detective is basically a reimagining of Sherlock Holmes – only Watson is now a sentient spaceship traumatized by the death of her previous crew, and Holmes is a bitchy scholar with a strong sense of morality.
This book has so many amazing things going for it. Its take on space travel is an immensely poetic one, more akin to seafaring than most science fiction usually portrays. (Think Disney’s Treasure Planet!) De Bodard’s lyrical and yet functional prose shines in this tightly-woven, thrilling mystery as well. I also really adore how The Shadow’s Child and Long Chau navigate each other’s pasts and resultant trauma to form a duo that can work together. I’m definitely going to be looking more into this series because I need more!
This novella was a fun, very fast-paced female-Sherlock-Holmes-in-space story with a murder mystery (or was it?) and cool world-building, told from the perspective of a sentient space ship.
Even though it was a really enjoyable read, I found myself wishing the author had turned it into a full-length novel instead. The characters' back stories, their traumatic, mysterious pasts and current relationships, as well as the setting deserved a more intricate treatment, a slower pace, and more resolution (e.g. actual treatment of the space ship's trauma). Same with the mystery plot: almost no time passes from discovering the body to solving the entire thing, even though the dead woman was an interesting person, belonged to a strange cult, and I had all kinds of further questions I would have wanted to see explored.
I was also a little mystified by the setting's mono-culture, in which everything is Asian-inspired and everyone drinks tea and loves poetry, no exceptions. A culture that is this homogenous made sense in the past when a culture was fairly isolated from other influences, travel, extensive trade and immigration. But here, space travel seems to be easy, cheap and swift with frequent exchanges, and access to news and entertainment from all sorts of sources seems equally unrestricted. So why would it become so seemingly homogenous?
But perhaps this is explained in the author's other works set in the same universe. Anyway, this point was just an unanswered question (I had many!), not something that truly affected my enjoyment of the story.
If you like a very fast pace, then this story truly has it all: quirky, memorable characters, great world-building, mysteries, cults, detective work, and even a bit of action and life-or-death tension at the end. If only it hadn't left me with so many questions and unsatisfied curiosity! But I'll certainly read more by this author, since this was a nice little appetizer.
Ship AI (or AIs) seem to be a fad nowadays. The novel is interesting but I am not sure the title reflects the content. It started strong but apparently there's very little detective work here. Also, I felt like this might not work best as a standalone.