Marianne de Pierres

The Sentients of Orion, Book 4

Orbit (2010)

ISBN: 978-1-84149-759-4

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Transformation Space is the fourth in a series, following Dark Space, Chaos Space and Mirror Space. De Pierres has created a complex and layered world, and as such some elements will be a little difficult for new readers to follow. However, I’ve read only the first of the series and was able to follow a substantial part of the plot without trouble; this suggests that the setting and worldbuilding may be the biggest challenge for new readers to get their heads around.

Despite the gaps in my knowledge of the plot, overall this novel – and probably the series – is rewarding. The world is convincing and interesting; the plot complex but easy to follow; and the bulk of the characters are interesting (although not all of them are sympathetic). It is not clear whether this is the final in the series; it could be read that way, but there are enough slightly loose ends that I would not be surprised if there was one more volume to follow.

In essence, galactic civilization seems to be teetering on the brink of disaster. The planet Araldis has been invaded by the voracious Saqr, who seem intent on destroying anything they can’t eat. Their invasion has allowed the valuable natural resources of the planet to be looted by the Post-Species – a looting which is only the first of multiple coordinated attacks which are killing billions and destroying the Orion Worlds and their League.

Meanwhile, the academics who have been studying “god” – the Entity that appeared one day in remote space and which appears to have great powers which it may possibly be able to share with humanity – find that it has disappeared. Perhaps it is not as disinterested in human affairs as they had thought.

And on a more personal level, Baronessa Mira Fedor is struggling to deal with her strange pregnancy. Forced on her in the first hours of the invasion by an aristocrat afraid his lineage would die out, Mira is nevertheless fiercely protective of the pregnancy.  However, her adventures have had a strong impact on her pregnancy and it appears that some of those to whom she turned for medical help have meddled – her baby may not be fully human anymore. Will that help or hinder humanity’s struggle to survive? To find out, Mira must first survive, herself, and secondly find a way to give birth to her child safely.

Mira is probably the most sympathetic of the various viewpoint characters; she’s been battered and bruised by fate and the actions of others, but still remains strong and focused on achieving her personal goals. Some of these goals have changed quite a lot since the beginning of the series, but her basic drive remains the same: to be allowed to make her own decisions about her life. That goal is sometimes obscured by the needs of survival, but it is undoubtedly one of her driving forces – and that’s something a lot of people will sympathise with. Most readers will be quietly cheering her on, hoping to see her not only survive, but thrive. It’s interesting to see her emerging from the strictures of quite a rigid, controlling society, as well. Mira seems a character who may well have tried to win greater freedom in any case, but the invasion of her planet and her subsequent adventures have certainly helped to push this aspect of her character to the fore; it’s a kind of coming of age story, albeit with a protagonist who’s a little older and more mature.

Although Mira is the character who stood out most for me, there are a number of other strong characters, male and female. These characters are well drawn and vivid; their diverse situations and backgrounds are all believable and provide greater depth to the story with their different perspectives. Although this is a science fiction novel, and the plot and the technological worlds are strong drivers in the novel, it is also in many ways a character driven novel. Readers will continue because they want to find out what happens to each character and why.

De Pierres also does a good job of handling the viewpoint of some of the aliens; for example, Tekton is a familiar sort of mind. We can understand him, but De Pierres also underlines the differences between his race and humans. This is a difficult line to walk but she achieves it very well. Cleverly, she doesn’t attempt to show us the mindset of the Post-Species – lack of knowledge of them makes them all the more ominous and frightening: more alien.

As noted earlier, there is quite a complex plot running through this series; although it is relatively easy to summarise in a few words, it is given depth through the number of different characters (with different agendas) who are involved, and the “big concepts” which underlie it. Although the big concepts have been hinted at before, it is at the end of this novel that they are first made explicit and examined. This is one of the reasons I think there may be another volume; there seems to be a good deal still unexplored here.

I enjoyed Transformation Space – it is a challenging but entertaining read and the characters caught my interest. In addition, the worldbuilding was very well done, credible and understandable while also exotic. I think I would probably have enjoyed it more had I read the earlier books in the series. I had read volume one (Dark Space), and this helped in that I had in that volume been introduced to the majority of characters and the broad situation. However, it also made me acutely aware of events and information that appeared to have been revealed in the following two books. Although these gaps were not insurmountable, I’m sure I would have gained more from this novel if I’d had a better appreciation of the full sequence of events. Science fiction fans should generally enjoy this novel; but I would suggest that it is worth starting this series from volume one, if possible.