Science fiction and fantasy
by Garth Jones
Sunspot takes a while to get going, not least because it has a large cast of characters. Quite a few of these meet their end very soon after we are introduced to them. The Sunspot project proves dangerous for anyone working on it, and even a few people who are not. This book begins as a murder mystery. We follow the programmer Izabel Torini as she tries to figure out who is out to scupper Sunspot. However the identity of the villain is revealed fairly early on, and the plot mutates into more of a suspense-based thriller.
The neighbouring planet of Morasmus is largely empty and wild, populated by a few tourists and people who have come to make a new life for themselves. It is descending into anarchy as competing robber bands fight each other for supremacy. The second half of the Sunspot project, the Sunspot Mainbeam, orbits Morasmus. Sunspot Spinal is due to set off on a long journey from Pirismus, in order to dock with it over Morasmus. At least, that's the plan. It soon becomes apparent that the killer is on board Sunspot, and able to infiltrate its computer systems.
Sunspot is something of a disorienting book, since the story is told from so many different points of view. At times it's unclear just whose story this is, and the plot jumps around like a dancer on hot coals. The head count is high, with each death becoming more brutal and inventive than the last. You will need a strong stomach for torture and gore to enjoy this book.
Fortunately this is more than a mere splatter-fest. Jones has a good understanding of human nature and the ego, so his characters are varied and fascinating. There's sexual chemistry between Forba and several of the women, and whilst the author has a masculine way of writing about sex it still makes for an enjoyable read.
Sunspot presents an optimistic future of spaceports and swarming skies. There's a cosy, domestic atmosphere about the lives of the Boquat executives, with their families, golf, and status-conscious wives. It makes for a soft counterpoint to the chaos on Morasmus, the psychotic murders, and the stark dangers of space.
In spite of the confusing array of characters, Sunspot is a book that improves the further you get into it. It's not hugely cerebral science fiction, but it is pacy and exhilarating, with well-rounded characters and a deft human touch.
If you like this, try:Light by M. John Harrison
Taking place in the future and at the turn of the millennium, this novel features aliens, spacecraft and cats of many colours.
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