The New Ceres planetary charter forbids the use of all modern technology. Law confines New Ceresians to the ways of 18th Century Earth. But beneath the surface, rebellion and revolution simmer constantly.
Proctor George Gordon, a hidden protector of New Ceres, knows all too well how easily these can bubble over, but nothing can prepare him for interstellar warfare in his own technologically challenged backyard. What odd coincidence brings him to the Sunrise Isles to be confronted by ninja and warrior nuns? Who is the strange but compelling amnesiac girl he finds in the convent, and what do the offworld nations want with her? And how can he be sure who to trust?
New Ceres is one of the most wonderful shared-world creations out there; putting, as Tansy Rayner Roberts says in her introduction to this novelette, the swash and the buckle back into science fiction. Angel Rising is an excellent example of just how wild that can get.
Let’s start out with the biggest potential drawback of Angel Rising: cultural appropriation. Flinthart sets his novelette in the Sunrise Isles, the New Ceres equivalent of Japan, specifically Japan of the 18th century. The potential for that to go horribly, horribly wrong is obvious, and indeed the piece constantly surfs that line; but it also rather brilliantly subverts itself and its own source-texts. It is, as a character says, a 27th century imitation of an 18th century imitation of the 15th century; emulating as much 21st century mass-media interpretations of that 18th century as any real evidence about it. The book emphasises this with comedic and more serious moments, but constantly, Angel Rising reminds the reader that what the characters are practising is cultural appropriation.
The book itself is an absolute riot. Angel Rising has the most outright fun of any SF book I’ve ever read; ninjas fighting warriors nuns form a setpiece in the novel more than once, in glorious fashion, and our hero has run-ins with samurai to boot. There are elements of both spy thriller and swashbuckler in here, with Flinthart’s writing keeping those at such a beautifully well paced, fantastically written immediacy that they simply work together; Gordon George is a sort of super-James Bond figure, and yet also at root believable, in part due to his cynicism and damaged nature. The cast are otherwise not fantastically well written, but this is essentially a character piece, despite the busy, active, explosive plot; Angel Rising is as much about George Gordon’s changing character as about anything else, including the interstellar war that forms a key part of the backdrop of the novel.
Angel Rising demonstrates something SF sometimes forgets with books like Neptune’s Brood, brilliant as it is: fiction should be, or at least can be, fun. If Dirk Flinthart’s novelette is one thing above all else, that thing is fun.