Creating a sequel is not a simple undertaking. There is a lot of responsibility to follow up the first installment of the series in a way that satisfies your audience while also changing the game to ensure you are not remaking the original work. There is a balance that must be found, and the best sequels are oftentimes the ones that flip the original around. Instead of raising the stakes, they lower them. Think of The Empire Strikes Back’s, The Last Jedi’s, or The Wrath of Khan. The first movies in all of these series involved some sort of world-ending threat. The sequels focus in on the characters. The sequel, in this way, is easy to mess up, but better than the original when done right.
The Dreaming Stars is the second book in the Axiom series by Tim Pratt, which begun with The Wrong Stars, which I reviewed on this blog last December. In the first novel, Pratt introduces us to his future. Humanity has moved into the stars and colonized worlds beyond our own system by traveling through bridges, a form of wormhole. Technology shared with humanity by the alien Liars, called so because they lie about literally anything, with little rhyme or reason. The Wrong Stars found Captain Callie Machedo and her crew rescue Dr. Elena Oh from a space station belonging to another alien race, the Axiom. The Axiom are far more advanced than humanity or the Liars, essentially cruel demigods. During their adventure, one of Elena’s captured crew, Sebastien, is implanted with Axiom technology and becomes drunk on his power, trying to take over the station to spread mind-controlling technology throughout the known universe. Callie and our other heroes manage to stop him, destroy the station, and rescue some more of Elena’s crew before returning home.
Getting this out of the way early, The Dreaming Stars still contains some of the same problems I had with its predecessor. A few typos were missed during the editing process, and there is at least one instance of a character being referred to with the incorrect name. Stephen instead of Sebastien. The ending feels slightly rushed, and the centerpiece of the final act could have been explored more. I will not spoil it here, but there could have been another book’s worth of material. In a way, this is a positive. Instead of padding out the story across multiple books, Pratt wants our heroes to be constantly moving forward. However, he does not take the time to develop some of them in this novel. A few, such as Callie, Elena, Stephen and Sebastian experience tremendous character growth. Others—Drake, Janice, Ashok—come off as one-note. As this is a series, Pratt has plenty of time to build them up, but it still would have been nice to see it start here.
The Dreaming Stars begins with the main characters returning from the dead, in a manner of speaking. After the end of the previous novel, the crew was forced to fake their deaths. Back in the land of the living, they are alerted to a series of disappearances near and around the human colony of Owain. A small plant occupied mostly by artists and poets, the crew learn from Lantern, their truth-telling Liar ally, that there is an Axiom facility nearby that is definitely the cause of the problem. However, she cautions, it has spent millennia sleeping. The crew are hired by a human company to investigate and team up with one of their representatives on their excursion. There, devouring the asteroid belt around the human colony, is a nano-machine swarm. Tiny robots which consume material and create more of themselves, expanding and expanding and expanding. Except, this swarm is not expanding. They send the processed materials back to the Axiom station, where Callie and the crew discover 47 Axiom, alive and sleeping.
The Dreaming Stars is an example of a sequel done right. The Wrong Stars is a classic first installment, similar to A New Hope. It established the characters and threw them up against a tremendous threat to the entire galaxy. The Dreaming Stars limits the danger to one solar system with one occupied planet. By doing this, Pratt is able to spend more time with his characters, especially Callie, her XO Stephen, and Sebastien. Free from Axiom technology, he spends most of the novel trying to prove that he is no longer the megalomaniac he once was, while Callie attempts to discover if his recovery is genuine, or part of some grander scheme. Pratt’s characters solve the mystery in this book and eliminate the current threat. The book does not end on an obvious cliffhanger but does end in such a way that leads directly into book 3. More than anything, The Dreaming Stars is a continuation, not an escalation.
Between the interstellar travel and alien mysteries, Pratt lets us linger with the characters and their romantic lives. Callie and Elena, who began their relationship at the end of The Wrong Stars, have already grown accustomed to living together and have integrated into each other’s lives very well. They are honest with each other, coming clean about insecurities and jealousies, which is something modern couples could learn from. Ashok, cyborg engineer of Callie’s ship, seems to be in a romantic relationship with Lantern from an outside perspective. Callie initially shows some revulsion at the idea of the union, but the revulsion has less to do with any sort of prejudice as it does with her not wanting to imagine how they would have sex. Stephan, the XO, develops an intense romance with Q quickly. They are open, completely honest, and immediately comfortable with each other. There is a purity that we can only hope to achieve. Pratt’s future is remarkable in these ways. Stigma’s are gone, and everyone is free to love who they wish, in whatever form that takes.
With The Dreaming Stars, Tim Pratt continues the space opera he began in The Wrong Stars. In my review of The Wrong Stars, I called this series pure sci-fi pulp. That sentiment still stands, but that is never an insult. Pulp grants writers a freedom to write what they want and experiment in ways which one normally does not see in mainstream fiction. His cast is wonderfully diverse, representing multiples ethnicities and sexualities, showing that science-fiction should be meant for everyone. This science-fiction pulp romance, coupled with the intriguing interstellar mysteries, make this series a must-read for any lover of sci-fi, and I cannot wait to see what Pratt does with Book three.
The Dreaming Stars can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold
Total Read Time: 8 days
Next on the List: The Outsider, by Stephen King