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Lockstep, by Karl Schroeder

Review copy provided by Tor Books (in eARC form).

Karl Schroeder is very good at doing SF that no one else is doing. In this case he’s combined lack of FTL travel with extensive robot presence and effective ubiquitous hibernation, so that colonies choose a ratio of months “wintering over” to months awake–common ratios including 360:1 and 270:1–so that their bots can harvest resources for humans providing much more limited drag on the system.

He does a really good job of not drawing attention to some of the questions that spring to mind most immediately as problems for me in this system, and one of the key skills of writing SF is drawing reader attention towards the things you find interesting and away from the things you do not. (In my case, the first few problems that sprang up were “what are these colonists doing–not their bots but them” and “how does human development work with hibernation, given that almost every long-hibernation creature we know of mature before hibernation/estivation.” There were not really characters shown doing serious high-level work or small-child characters.) He did show a little bit of raiding of the hibernating planets by those out of sync with them, so that was satisfying.

The main focus, though, was on family relations. The main family core of this book actually reacted to each other like family, which I found satisfying, and so did the secondary dynamic family. The resolution of the power dynamics relied very much on who they were in relation to each other, and I enjoyed that very much. I also found this to be a satisfying stand-alone, not the beginning of a series whose resolution is entirely unknown as yet.

The diversity of the “seventy thousand worlds” was a little more referred to than shown, and I was halfway through the book when I was clear on how things like linguistic drift were working over a fourteen-thousand year time-scale. I would like to see less of a unitary culture even with characters like Evayne working to keep it that way–but I was willing mostly to behave as though it was only that those were the worlds these characters cared about. (I did wish that Our Hero had been willing to run off to some worlds “no one” cared about, or at least to consider it as an option. There’s a lot of “no one” in the universe.) But even with those caveats: more like this but different. Yes. Definitely an interesting thought experiment.

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