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Clarissa (SF) - Karl Drinkwater ***

Having a series of books is nothing new in science fiction, but Karl Drinkwater is taking the interesting line of having a main series of novels accompanied by a set of novellas that fill in history or generally expand the picture outside the main line of the series. In this third 'Lost Tales of Solace' book we get a key piece of the backstory.

The main Lost Solace line features military renegade Opal, accompanied by a ship with a powerful AI as she searches for her sister, Clarissa. In this novella we discover how Clarissa became lost when the space liner Solace suffered a catastrophic interaction with a strange phenomenon in this fictional universe's equivalent of hyperspace.

In many ways this should be the most important of these supporting novellas so far, but for me it was the weakest. There are number of reasons. Clarissa is ten, and reading a first person account from the viewpoint of a ten-year-old is more than a little wearing. That strange phenomenon the ship encounters is fascinating, but its abilities feel closer to fantasy than science fiction. And the whole thing comes to a rather abrupt ending leaving events entirely in the air. There is also, as Drinkwater admits, no real AI element here, which has always been one of the biggest strengths of his writing.

I think Drinkwater's way of structuring the combinations that make up the series is really interesting, and I have enjoyed the novellas, but I am getting a bit lost at this stage. What is happening here is a bit like being given pieces of a jigsaw. Each book gives us another piece of the picture - and that's great. But unlike a jigsaw, you don't have the other pieces in front of you. It's now nearly four years since I read the first novel and it's getting quite hard to keep track of all the components. We need some clever take on a recap to pull everything together again.

I've not given up on this series by any means (in fact I'm already reading the next novella), but I think the reader needs a touch more handholding for the future.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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