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BOOK REVIEW: Killing Gravity by Corey J. White

BOOK REVIEW: Killing Gravity by Corey J. White

Tor Books
June 2017
Paperback, $18.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Science Fiction

7/10

Corey J. White begins the Voidwitch Saga with his space opera novella debut Killing Gravity, a butt-kicking, mind-expanding series that will delight fans of Firefly and Kameron Hurley’s God’s War. The main character is Mariam “Mars” Xi, a psychic supersoldier fleeing from an organization that terrorizes the galaxy.

Before she escaped in a bloody coup, MEPHISTO transformed Mariam Xi into a deadly voidwitch. Their training left her with terrifying capabilities, a fierce sense of independence, a deficit of trust, and an experimental pet named Seven. She’s spent her life on the run, but the boogeymen from her past are catching up with her. An encounter with a bounty hunter has left her hanging helpless in a dying spaceship, dependent on the mercy of strangers.

Penned in on all sides, Mariam chases rumors to find the one who sold her out. To discover the truth and defeat her pursuers, she’ll have to stare into the abyss and find the secrets of her past, her future, and her terrifying potential.

 

Mars is enough like River Tam that Firefly fans are sure to get a kick out of reading this novella (the first in a saga), but different enough that it’s not revisiting the same ground. Mars has many of the same traumas as River, what with her being taken as a young child and experimented on, having things done to her brain in order to weaponise her power. 

There is only pain, only pain and the men. They use hypnotism to rewrite the code of my brain, but it’s not just hypnotism. They’ve opened up my skull, and wires run out of the pink-gray matter-flesh and hang in loose parabolas and meet the floor and snake until they run into a machine. This machine talks to my brain, and this machine lies to my brain and makes me need them, listen to them, obey them; but I do not need them, I need them, I am alone and I need them, because I am just a tool without purpose, a weapon without a target, and I need them because they know how to point me. I will always come home and I will never come home, because I left it, because no one would ever want me, because look at me. Look at this child with no notion of self, no goal, just a desire to flee and an ability to kill if it is required, and it is always required because the whole universe is built upon kill, the first thing they taught me was kill.

But she differs in that she is slightly more emotionally stable, is able to look after herself, and spends most of her time alone, on the run and enacting revenge where she can. Alone, that is, except for Seven.

People have tried to tell me she looks like a cat, but tiny. Cats come from Terra, and as far as I know, cats can’t squeeze their whole bodies through gaps only big enough for their heads. They definitely can’t glide through the air on skin membranes.

It’s Mars and Seven against the universe.

I’m screaming again and Seven is awake now. She’s in the helmet with me, and she’s baring her tiny little teeth at the whole universe like she’s going to kill it herself, like together we’ll watch it all burn.

Until they are rescued by a ship of misfits who maybe also have their reasons for avoiding the attention of the law, and Mars, with MEPHISTO on her tail, is the last thing the crew of the Nova need.

Along the way, Mars builds a sometimes tense rapport with this crew and obtains her own ship that comes complete with AI.

“Waren, ma’am. It means ‘loyal.’“
“Loyal? That’s interesting. Do you know what happened to your former owner?”
“My last contact with my previous owner was prior to experiencing a catastrophic systems failure. I was brought back online, here at the shipyard.”
“What can you infer from that?”
“My inference engine has been disabled by the proprietor of the Cassin Shipyard.”
“Why don’t you switch that inference engine back on? You’re a freethinking intelligence, aren’t you?”
The ship goes quiet, that subtle background speaker hiss going silent as Waren retreats into its systems.
“What are you doing?” Squid asks.
“I can’t stand bizpeople,” I say. “I’m trying to see if the ship itself wants to make a deal.”

And, whether she likes it or not, she feels responsible for Squid, Trix, and Mookie, which makes them a target for those she’s trying to escape.

“I’ve got a corvette, an AI, a weird cat-thing, and no weapons,” I say to Seven, using a problem-solving trick that engineers have relied on for hundreds of years. “I’ve got to go up against six ships to rescue three friends. All right, three people, but they’re people who wouldn’t be in this shit if it wasn’t for me.”
Seven maows.
“I don’t think so.”
She maows again, louder this time.
I sigh and think for a second. “Holy shit; that might work.”

But Mars is not to be messed with; she really can kill you with her mind.

More fighters blast through the impromptu asteroid storm, heading right for me and the Mouse. I reach out, grab, and crush them. The ships implode, condense, become metal asteroids with human souls at their cores.

 

Killing Gravity is set in a universe where people modify their own physicality in a variety of ways, whether they be underdog types, or people wanting to sell more products.

I almost stay behind to watch the fucked-up, perfected, tweaked, and/or augmented bodies of the genehackers and bodychoppers go at it. But then I think better; I think of survival. Still, nothing gets me hot quite like extreme and disparate evolutions of the human meat fighting tooth and nail, and sometimes claw and blade and venom-gland.

These are the worst kinds of salespeople—the augmented, boosted, and tweaked. Get the right implants and you could perform brain surgery, make art no one has ever imagined, delve into grassroots activism for communities spread out all over the galaxy . . . or you could mess with people’s neurolinguistic programming to make them buy things they don’t need and can’t afford.
Fucking bizpeople.

There is a division of class that many of these stories thrive upon.

Ring One is where my people live. Well, not my people, but the closest thing I want to find: the freaks, the runaways, the perpetual wanderers, the organized crime, the genehackers, the bodychoppers, the digital-wannabes, the loose, the inebriated, the ones with no common sense, no career and no desire for one, the fed up, fucked up, and flamed out. The whole place is like a dangerous chemical concoction.

And it’s plain to see that the author has done a lot of world-building preparation for this universe, though there is quite a bit of suspension of disbelief required, but the readers are dropped into the middle of it and left to catch up as the back story is revealed through flashbacks and discussions.

The descriptions here are gorgeous and at times chilling, and there’s no doubting Corey J. White’s skills when it comes to stringing these words together.

 If you’ve never seen the inside of a wormhole, it’s hard to describe. You know that old saying about how when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back? It’s impossible to look out into that nonspace beyond our four dimensions without feeling like something is watching you, like some thing out there could just end you.

Spacewalking in a wormhole isn’t the same sensation as when you go out into regular space. In regular space you know that if something happens to your grav boots or your tether, you’ll be left drifting out there, and if someone in the ship isn’t quick on their feet, you’ll be about to experience one of the most horrifyingly alone deaths you can imagine. In worm space, there’s not really any “there” there. There’s no place for you to drift out into and become lost in. There’s no time, there’s no space. I don’t know what would actually happen if you drifted off.

This book fast-paced, interesting, and quirky, with diversity, intrigue, and a small cat-cross-sugar-glider type critter that you can’t help but adore as you wish for one of your very own.

Beautifully written,  this reviewer’s only real complaint is that it was over far too quickly. Though it doesn’t leave too many questions open, I eagerly await the next installment. 

So many corpses lost among the stars, so much glittering shrapnel.
It’s almost beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Killing Gravity by Corey J. White

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