2012’s The Apocalypse Ocean is the fourth volume in Tobias S. Buckell’s Xenowealth series1.
Bred by the alien Nesaru to manage other human slaves, Kay survived the slaughter that ensued when humans liberated Nesaru-dominated Okur. As the book opens, Kay has found her way through the wormhole network to backwater Placa del Fuego, where the determined sixteen-year-old set out to conquer the world. Or at least the underworld.
There is a small sticking point: the Doaq.
Not much is known about the alien, but what is known is disquieting. It appears to have a wormhole maw through which it crams anyone or anything that impedes it. It seems to be indestructible. Complex electronics fail near it. The Doaq seems utterly confident that it can do anything it wishes whenever it wants to.
This affront to Kay’s authority will not stand. Still, despite her cognitive enhancements, Kay is a normal human being who would fit into the Doaq maw as easily as any other victim. Rather than tackle the Doaq herself, she maneuvers off-world cyborg Pepper into the Doaq’s path. Let the war hero deal with the problem.
While the encounter provides a lot more data about the Doaq, the results are somewhat disheartening. The Doaq survives, more or less unscathed. The urban battlefield is demolished. Pepper ends up in the ocean. Alas, while cyborgs are very durable, they are not buoyant. Blub, blub.
Street kid Tiago makes the mistake of trying to pick the pocket of an off-worlder, Nashara (another cyborg war hero). Nashara is looking for Kay. She drafts Tiago as a go-between. Tiago is one of Kay’s subordinates, but until now, a minor one. Now he has Kay’s full attention as a potentially useful person. This is an enormous boost to his utility, at what will probably be a large cost to his life expectancy.
Tiago and Kay’s lives will only get more complicated. Their backwater world is about to become a battlefield between the human Xenowealth and enemies it has no idea it has.
In my review of Sly Mongoose, I said “If I can draw a strained analogy from ecology, humans are the equivalent of an island species that has stumbled onto a vast continent.” This episode continues this theme. To date, the main challenge humans have faced has been the alien collective known as the Satrapy. The Satrapy is in no sense the galaxy’s apex predator. There are other entities, entities that present an existential threat to human and alien kind simply by existing. Our heroes are unlucky enough to discover what these entities are and what makes them so dangerous.
Kay is a fairly unlikable young woman. This is not entirely her fault. She has never had the luxury of circumstances where she might have learned to be otherwise. The Nesaru planned to use her as a herd dog, so Kay is very good at reading and manipulating other humans. As child, she was taught that it was right for her to dominate other humans into obeying the aliens. As a survivor, she very quickly discovered that the former slaves have very little love for their overseers. As a refugee, she was essentially abandoned rather than being rehabilitated. Most of Kay’s character arc involves learning how to see other people as people2.
Tiago on the other hand is a far more conventional protagonist, orphaned and left to survive the streets of a hostile world where corrosive, flammable liquid rains from the skies. If there seems to be a consistent theme in the Xenowealth books, it is that on every world there is a shocking lack of social services, including but not limited to child protective services. Tiago is in his way as badly damaged as Kay, though not nearly as dangerous.
Apocalypse Ocean is a solidly written installment that expands the setting nicely. Recommended.
This is the first new novel in the series since 2008, when Sly Mongoose came out, although there was a 2015 collection of shorter pieces: Xenowealth: A Collection. There’s room for more books in this setting; if Buckell writes them, I’ll read them.
The Apocalypse Oceanis available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), and here (Barnes & Noble). I could not find the book at Chapters or the Book Depository. I did find the audiobook here (Chapters-Indigo) and here (Book Depository).
1: I previously reviewed Sly Mongoose. Sly Mongooseis the third book, but I have read the whole series to date. As explained in the review, I had a reason to start where I did.
2: It seems unlikely she will ever see aliens as people.