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Welcome to my first book review of 2019!  This 2018 novella jumped out at me while scanning my TBR list so I figured it was as good a choice as any for where to start my reviews this year.  To note, I found out while preparing my review that this work is part of a collection of a few other novellas and shorts referred to as the Sunflower Cycle.  I don’t feel like I missed anything having read this as a stand-alone story, but since it wasn’t clear to me that this was the case going in I figured I might as well help spread the word.

The book focuses on Sunday Azhmundin, a member of the crew serving aboard a spaceship called the Eriophora.  Tasked with sowing the galaxy with transportation gates, Sunday and the rest of the crew have spent most of their 65 million year mission in stasis, being woken only for short, sporadic intervals over the millenia whenever the ship’s AI, dubbed Chimp, determines human oversight is required.  Despite their interrupted lives, discontent is brewing among the crew. The mission has gone on far longer than intended and the lack of contact from other humans has raised questions about the fate of humanity. More immediately troubling, however, unknown creatures called Gremlins have begun emerging through newly completed gates to attack the ship seemingly at random while some onboard suspect that Chimp is deliberately withholding information from them.  As a result, a small but determined segment of the crew is starting to doubt the mission to the point of suggesting the human crew assert their independence from the AI and take control of their own fates. But how can they mutiny when they are only awake a few days out of every century in unpredictable groups under constant surveillance?

I really, really enjoyed this read and made short work of its 140 or so pages.  The scenario presented was fascinating and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.  It was quite a ride navigating the mysteries surrounding the ship while trying to decide between the relatively sympathetic outlook Sunday had toward Chimp and the more hardline stance taken by Lian Wei and her followers.  Despite it all, I think I was more inclined to share Sunday’s outlook; they were all prisoners in a cage, and despite Chimp’s apparent position of authority it arguably got as raw a deal as anyone else. The ending, which I won’t spoil, offered quite the potential twist as did the bonus story I found online by piecing together the message hidden by red letters spaced throughout the text.  When I first saw them, I worried they were formatting issues with my e-book, but once I became aware of how the conspirators were communicating with each other I decided that I better start paying attention. For anyone that might have missed these while reading, the hidden message sends you here.  Be warned, however, that link contains spoilers and probably won’t make much sense unless you’ve read the novella.

I highly recommend this book to all the science fiction fans out there, though perhaps you might be best served by starting with the other works in this series.  They just so happen to be freely available on the author’s website, so I’ll likely be checking those out very soon as well.  As is often the case, I crossed one book off of my TBR pile only to replace it with a few more titles from the same author.  My thought is that if I enjoyed jumping in on a running series of shorter works this much, how much more might I enjoy starting a larger work from the start?