A Star Curiously Singing
Set in a future world under Sharia law, a debugger with a computer implant in his brain gets the opportunity to fix a robot that went to another star and malfunctioned during the trip. What he discovers is something he never imagined.
January 22, 2016
“Christian cyberpunk.” That’s not a phrase you hear a heck of a lot, probably because the world of most cyberpunk novels is dark and dismal, with pretty much zero discussion of spiritual matters. If you’re not familiar with cyberpunk, Wikipedia defines it as, “…a subgenre of science fiction in a futuristic setting that tends to focus on a “combination of lowlife and high tech” featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as artificial intelligence and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order. It really became a subgenre of its own with the release of 1984’s Neuromancer by William Gibson. However, in A Star Curiously Singing, former software developer Kerry Nietz pulls it off Christian cyberpunk with a fascinating opening to his DarkTrench saga.
Violence: Not much, but it does exist, mostly of a high-tech nature. There is at least one encounter that could have turned into a sexual assault as well.
Sexual Content: As I mentioned above, there is at least one scene that makes you wonder if a sexual assault is coming. And there are mentions of robots being used as sexual partners.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Somewhat surprisingly for a cyberpunk book, there is no mention of such things.
Spiritual Content: The world (at least what we see of it) has been taken over by Islam and there are numerous references to Islamic beliefs and titles. The name of Allah is not mentioned, but the shorthand “A” referring to Allah is very common.
Language/Crude Humor: Very little if any.
Other Negative Content: As I said earlier, references to Islamic beliefs are common, including the concept of needing to have your good deeds outweigh your bad to get to paradise. There is also frequent references to mind-control through painful corrections for forbidden thoughts. Slavery is also a persistent theme. And yes, slaves are considered expendable.
Positive Content: Despite being all but erased from society, God manages to get His message through to our hero, through a most unlikely source (not gonna spoil it!)
I’ll be perfectly honest here… it was the name that drew me to this book. The concept of a star that sings was just too unique for me to not take a look at it. And when I saw that it’s a Christian cyberpunk, well, it was “shut up and take my money” time!
As I said in the section above, this book presents us with a world under Sharia law, where every whim can be made into law. There’s even a mention that the rulers considered banning red. Our narrator is a “debugger” designated DR 63 (DR for Data Relocator), but he prefers to be called “Sandfly” or “Sand” for short. Sand tells us the story in first-person, so we’re right inside his thoughts, including the forbidden ones for which he gets a “buzz,” i.e. a jolt of pain delivered by the implant in his brain. It’s the ultimate form of slavery, where you don’t even have freedom of thought.
Sand is given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to fix a bot that went where no bot has gone before. The “Abduls,” or “Abbys,” as Sand refers to his masters, have built an interstellar starship (named DarkTrench, from which the series takes its name) and sent it to another star with a human crew assisted by bots. However, one bot exhibits unusual behavior so it and the entire crew, bots and humans alike, are quarantined. Sand is chosen to go up the space elevator to the orbital station where DarkTrench is docked to not only fix the bot but determine what made it malfunction, so future bots can be protected from similar effects.
Geeks of a certain age will be pleased with in-jokes dropped here and there in the story. Sand gets his tools from a store that the owner says was once a comic book shop, and the most frequent expletives are “Clark” and “Crichton,” or even both together for added emphasis. I think most science fiction geeks will recognize those names.
The writing flows easily, and it really feels like a flow of consciousness narrative from inside Sand’s head. It’s also clear from the story that Sand wouldn’t have succeeded without the help of God. However, the story is not without flaws. There is one scene that really feels like it was just tossed in there to increase the word count; it really doesn’t connect to the story in any meaningful way. A certain item is obtained which is used later, but that item could have been put in Sand’s hands in many other ways that I can think of. Also, the period when Sand is trying to uncover the reason the bot malfunctioned kind of drags. Again, it feels like the author is trying to get his word count up to a certain threshold.
However, even with those flaws, this is a book I’ve returned to reread several times. The story is fascinating, as is the way the author describes Christianity without using any of the old familiar terms. There’s no mention of sanctification, grace, crucifixion, or even Jesus’ name. But this is still very clearly a Christian book, just using different words. “A~A³” (A not A cubed) is the term used for God, and a frequent phrase is “he stoops,” bringing to mind Philippians 2:5-8. Avoiding the usual Christian buzzwords makes this a great book to give to your non-Christian friends, especially if they’re fans of science fiction and/or cyberpunk (though if they’ve stumbled across certain reviews, including this one, they might be aware of the book’s Christian viewpoint). They won’t be turned away by the language and it might just spark some questions about the nature of this God who stoops.
+ Demonstrates faith coexisting with high technology.
+ Even though a slave, our hero wins with God's help.
- Frequent references to slavery, totalitarian government, and thought control.
- Slaves, even privileged ones like debuggers, are considered expendable.