I didn’t have to wait very long for the—as the Tor.com guidelines for the That Was Awesome series phrase it—“small and/or crystallizing moment that [I] absolutely loved in a fellow author’s book or story” in Kameron Hurley’s God’s War.
It came on the very first line.
In case you haven’t read it yet, here it is: “Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.”
What hooked me, blew me away, gave me that satisfied feeling as I settled into a book I knew I was going to love, was the sheer science fiction-ness of that sentence. As well as being a killer opening line, it’s also one that could not belong to any other genre but SF. That one line, those fifteen words, nail the colours of this book to the SF mast, hard and fast.
Nyx is the protagonist of God’s War and its sequels, a former Bel Dame—state-sanctioned bounty hunters whose primary role is to track down deserters from the wars that have ravaged Nyx’s world for so long that people barely remember why they’re fighting them. But Nyx screwed up one time too many and was kicked out of the Bel Dames. Now she’s freelance, picking up the contracts, or “notes,” that no-one else wants because they’re too dirty or small-time. She has around her a dysfunctional team of mercenaries and they scratch out a living in a world that’s dangerous, dry and crawling with bugs of one kind or another. Most of the technology is based on bugs, enhanced by science (which is practiced, neatly, by “magicians”) and it’s a creepy, crawly, crazy place.
And Nyx fits right in. She’s tough and mean and has one eye on the main chance and one on the door. We already know she’ll sell her womb for a few fast bucks; if she knew where her grandma was she’d probably sell her twice as fast. But we can’t help but like her, maybe because we’re along for her ride and she’s probably the only person who can stop us getting killed in this planet-spanning hotzone she calls home.
The reason God’s War gelled with me so much was that for a long time I’d been out of the SF loop. I’d not read what I’d call “proper” SF for a good while, so long in fact that I didn’t know how or where my entry point back into the game should be. Then I read Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Kameron Hurley’s God’s War back-to-back, and suddenly I was home.
Leckie might have swept the awards board but Hurley has the edge for me. She creates a truly original future. Nyx’s homeworld is—though the term is never used in the book—based on an Islamic culture. We never learn whether it’s a pocket of the galaxy that is like this, or Nyx’s world specifically, or if the dominant culture of the future universe has its roots in Islam, but it doesn’t matter. Nyx lives there and it’s been like that for a thousand years. It’s just the way things are.
Although God’s War was first published in 2011 in the US, it didn’t get a UK publication until earlier this year, so I’m pretty new to Hurley’s work. I’ve already devoured Infidel and am looking forward closely to the third book in the series. But, more than that, thanks to God’s War, I’m looking forward to the future again, and to finding more science fiction that is as thought-provoking, thrilling and thoroughly modern as Kameron Hurley’s God’s War.
David Barnett is an author and journalist whose novel Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is available from Tor in the US and Snowbooks in the UK. Its sequel, Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon, publishes September 16th. Read an excerpt here!