Lucifer’s Star is a quick read filled with space battles, futuristic technology, cyborgs, clones and sexy biroids. It has a thrilling opening battle, morally gray characters and a well-done, subtle sci-fi setting. But it also has editorial problems and lacks a strong villain.
The story follows Cassius Mass, a famous pilot and Crius-born noble. He fought hard but lost his war, his home planet and his wife. When we meet the Cassius five years after the action-packed opening scene, he has a new name, a new look and a sullen attitude. He is a shell of the man he once was as he works to understand who cloned him to start an uprising under his name and what happened to a raided ship where his sister nearly died.
The world-building is beautiful but not overdone; the portrayal of humanity is interesting given its progress in science and technology. We spend quite a bit of time on the ship Melampus where we get a sense of how advanced humans have become. We are introduced to weapons like micro-pistols, machines called “Hunk-A-Junk” that will clean up your mess and characters who live over 200 years. Cassias himself is a cyborg with improved senses and abilities, including enhanced eyesight and strength. It makes you wish you can have his speed and quick reflexes in order to pilot with him amongst the stars.
There is a love triangle between the characters. Ilsa is former sex-slave and robot created to look like the snow queen from Frozen. I enjoyed how the story subtly raises the question of whether she should be treated as a human or as a robot she technically is. She sleeps with Clarice O’Harra, the security chief of Shogun and of commonwealth ancestry, who is more of a soldier than a “pretty face”. Monogamy is not a rule in Lucifer’s Star as Cassius sleeps with and cares for both women separately. Yet, the one he loves most is his wife, Judith, who died when the planet Crius was destroyed. Unlike many, she was a natural beauty without genetic modification. Other characters not involved in the love mess are Ida, the captain of the Melampus, Cassius’s brother, Thomas, and his talented scientist but slightly insane sister, Zoe. Cassius slowly comes to realize how much he cares for the characters and how he is willing to fight for them, possibly at the cost of many lives.
While I enjoyed many parts of the novel, Lucifer’s Star can use another round of editing. There are errors such as missing words or spaces. Plus, there is excess backstory peppered throughout and too much telling, especially through dialogue. There are instances when fives words can be used in place of fifteen. The climatic conclusion lacks “oomph” as the story could use a clear antagonist. As such, that final one-on-one battle between the antagonist and protagonist is also missing. The Chel are supposed to be terrifying and difficult to kill, yet they keep dying. The cognition AIs are so powerful they once nearly destroyed humanity but, when we see the AI units in action, they’re somehow not frightening and almost sweet. While having multiple villains can give the story intrigue, we need to see one standout and terrifying villain to give the story a focused conflict and a climatic conclusion as suspenseful as the opening pages.
Phipps and Suttkus have a talent for ending each scene with a revelation or thrilling moment that pushes you into next chapter, making Lucifer’s Star a page-turner despite the editorial problems. I would recommend this as an easy read that goes well with a rainy day, a cup of steaming tea and a biscuit. I just wish we have a Hunk-A-Junk to clean up after us, too, while we read.