2015’s This Gulf of Time and Stars is the first book in Julie E. Czerneda’s Reunification series. It is set in her Clan Chronicles setting (first visited in her 1997 debut novel, A Thousand Words for Stranger).
Refugees without history, the surprisingly humanoid Clan live unseen amongst humans, who in turn live in the vast multi-species galactic confederation, the Trade Pact. The Clan’s psychic assassins eliminate any person unlucky enough to discover the Clan’s existence. Or rather, the Clan once lived unseen amongst humans. Now they live out in the open, outed by a biological trap of their own creation.
The Clan breeding program was so successful at creating females of unparalleled psychic power that no male can survive breeding with them. Hoping that the Trade Pact’s vast R&D resources can overcome the reproductive bottleneck, the Clan revealed themselves and joined the Trade Pact.
The Clan may have traded gradual extinction for swift extermination.
To join the Trade Pact, the Clan had to pledge to abandon its old, paranoid, mind-raping ways. That pledge does squat for past victims like Sarran or grieving survivors like Cartnell. No worries, because now Cartnell and his Assembler allies have a window of opportunity to assist the Clan on its way to extinction.
The opening gambit in Cartnell’s genocidal crusade does not succeed but it does not fall far short of success. Most of the Clan die. Among the few survivors is the Clan’s current leader, Sira di Sarc. Sira and her human husband may be able to protect the few remaining survivors. With luck, they may be able to save the species. Success depends on unravelling the odd quirks of Clan biology and understanding the Clan’s past.
It is a past someone went to a lot of trouble to conceal.
The Clan is secretive and casually murderous; many of them appear to hold every other sort of being in contempt. As far as I can tell, they seem to have thought that promising not to casually mind-wipe the inconvenient was sufficient, that no recompense to their victims, not even an apology, was required. For that matter, it’s clear some of the Clan haven’t stop rewiring human minds to make them better servants. If someone were to imagine a group bound to attract pogroms, they would probably imagine something like the Clan.
Czerneda makes the Clan more likeable by A) giving them a missing history, which suggests that they could be victims themselves, and B) using Sira as a viewpoint character. She is much more generous, open, and adventurous than her kin. If she weren’t, she would not have been able to fall in love with a human. She would have simply rewritten his mind to enslave him.
This work is part of Czerneda’s Clan Chronicles , a setting she has been revisiting over the course of her two decade long career. The Clan Chronicles include the following works:
- A Thousand Words for Stranger (1997)
- Ties of Power (1999)
- To Trade the Stars (2002)
- Reap the Wild Wind (2007)
- Riders of the Storm (2008)
- Rift in the Sky (2009)
- This Gulf of Time and Stars (2015)
- The Gate to Futures Past (2016)
- To Guard Against the Dark (2017)
Of all these books, I have only read A Thousand Words for Stranger … twenty years ago. In effect, I jumped onto the series seven books into it. Not recommended; this is a series where continuity matters. The author does provide background information (particularly when Cartnell is gathering allies for genocide) but I sense I would have enjoyed this more had I begun at the beginning.
Czerneda is a strong, competent writer. This novel shows just why it is that she is one of the best known members of her cohort of Canadian SF writers (and incidentally, why it is she can sidestep the usual 120,000-word-limit on spec-fic novels).
Readers should be aware this book is an introduction to a three novel arc (if not to the series as a whole) rather than a standalone. By book’s end, the stakes have become very high for the Clan. In other words, cliffhanger. I am looking forward to reading the next book.