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Kirkus Reviews

3 Jan 2024

Civilized, intellectual SF about society, politics, and empire-building.

An isolated cluster of star systems, following decades of isolation, suddenly open their borders to share their idealistic philosophy and political system in Hawkins’ SF novel.

The story unfolds thousands of years in humanity’s far future. Teleportation-gateway technology (still not well understood) has spread mankind throughout the galaxy, spawning competing empires and conflicting ideologies—at times such entities might cooperate for a common interest (mainly profit), but otherwise they endlessly plot against each other. An isolated star cluster, the Archipelago, suddenly expels all outside corporate interests, deactivates its gates, and quarantines. After 50 years, an unorthodox invitation (“Well, it has been a while hasn’t it? How are you all? How are the kids?”) issues from the “Arc,” inviting delegates from other power blocs to tour the Archipelago’s new, eco-based Utopian society (and, perhaps, re-establish trade relations). The selected diplomats, are, of course, also professional intelligence-gatherers, armed with nanotech spyware and poised to subvert whatever the Archipelago has achieved. Ren Markov, whose late parents originated from the Arc system, is the representative of the Core Planets Federation. Hard-drinking and disillusioned with his career in skullduggery on a decadent ruling planet, Ren is somewhat sympathetic to the Arc’s hopeful vision of sustainability but still mistrusts his hosts’ carefully choreographed propaganda and the dark hints of tyranny at the edges of their commune-like social structure. Hawkins’ mature SF narrative (which, with its weary operative hero, may remind readers of the literary espionage novels of John Le Carré) is short on ray-gun blasts or romance but long on thoughtful debates on the nature of a fair society, ethical government, and planetary stewardship; the story is sadly persuasive in its depiction of Homo sapiens many millennia in the future still fighting one another out of greed and nationalism. Some dangling loose ends after the denouement point toward potential sequels, and readers will be eager for more visits to this universe.

Civilized, intellectual SF about society, politics, and empire-building.

Kirkus Starred Review

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