Michael Flynn serves up enjoyable reads, if you like science fiction with great characters to accompany world building and slowly-unfolding plots that surprise. His latest, In the Lion’s Mouth, is the third novel set in a series that explores intrigue and human adventure thousands of years in the future. It strikes me as his most accomplished book to date, and the best in an ottherwise very good series.
Flynn’s human future includes the adventures of operatives of two interstellar empires. They battle it out, sometimes in space with ships, more often in hand-to-hand combat, and occasionally in the living room while attended by a butler. This book opens in the latter setting. Super-agent Bridget ban, a junior associate named Graceful, and Bridget’s daughter Méarana await the homecoming of the Méarana’s father, another agent/double-agent. What they get instead is an agent from a rival empire, who tells how the missing man has got himself embroiled in a power struggle. They and the readers are drawn into a story with enough plot twists and intrigue to keep everyone guessing until the second-to-last page. Then we are given a cliffhanger, and now a two-year wait for the next story.
I recommend reading these books in order. The current read does stand alone. But I would start with The January Dancer (2008) and proceed Up Jim River (2010). The first book is an excellent read, lots of space and shooting and stuff. What some call space opera (think soap opera), and much beloved by fans. I think I was less impressed with the second book, in which Méarana and her father go in search of her then-missing mother. I’ve sort of spoiled the plot point, but just erase from your brain what I wrote and read the book anyway. In the Lion’s Mouth is a superior sf novel. The pace is slow and steady, but the action unfolds well. The settings are fantastic, but believable. It’s nice to have a hard-to-put-down book in one’s hands.
Two observations. One is about world building. This is the craft by which a writer creates a world (or in this case, a region of the galaxy) and develops a culture complete with history, technology, politics, maps, and characters. The stars are vaguely familiar, Edacass is Eta Cassiopeia, 19 light years away; the Century Suns are nearest stars Alpha Centauri A and B and maybe C; Epsidanny is Epsilon Eridani; Serious is the Dog Star, Sirius. Tsol is our own sun. But Terrans (Earthlings) have become the riff-raff white trash of the galaxy. Book four promises a trip to Old Earth–I can hardly wait.
More on world building and especially language–there’s a lot of Celtic people in space in ten thousand years. In their empire, they speak Gaelactic. Cute. Law enforcement folks are magpies and riffs (sheriffs). Some Chinese stuff is going on, too. As is the serving of an ancient dish, hoddawgs and zorgrot. (Get it?) Flynn has a fascinating universe and plays around with language enough to distract me.
Second observation: religion is absent here. I guess the Irish bishops crisis of the 21st century was enough to drive every Celt out of the Church by the 121st. Not many sf writers handle religion well. Most, including the more conservative folks, tend to avoid it entirely. Maybe we’re better off for it. But it makes for an intriguing thought. Suppose you were transported to the far future, ten or twenty thousand years. And you found no Christianity there. What would you make of it? Would you still read the Bible and pray the Hours? Would you attempt to evangelize? Would you look for an underground and hidden Church? Would you give up?
One of the things I’ve done since I was a boy was to put myself in the setting of the stories I read. I’ve imagined myself a Borrower, in Middle Earth, and living in the Foundation. Easily enough, I can imagine myself making and serving food with the elusively rare spice coriander in Flynn’s future. But I always come up short with wondering about how I would live my faith if I were the last Christian in the universe. Maybe that’s a worth a book.
Meanwhile, read Michael Flynn’s books. I really enjoy this series. In order, I would rate these books four stars, three-and-a-half, and four-point-five in that order.