Saloa, by Toby Weston

Last night I finished Saloa. Now I need Toby Weston to immediately produce at least twelve new volumes because it makes me feel like reading Banks’ Culture series: books you can live in. Weston’s universe differs from the Culture in that it is not unattainable and in many areas even likely.

New big ideas, a believable and even likely universe and well-built characters make Saloa well worth reading for anyone who enjoys hard scifi and space opera.

Synopsis
Leimeiê is training koro, a kind of soldiers. As a new batch nears graduation she receives word that the remains of her husband, who died sixty years ago in retaliatory action against the home planet, have resurfaced. She sets out on a mission to retrieve them, and perhaps bring him back.

So that’s Saloas synopsis. But like the universe in which it is set, it consists of a number of layers. To start with there is the story itself: a gripping sci-fi thriller with innovative technological ideas that, if now non-existant, are very much no longer unimaginable. Which makes Saloa hard scifi: in Saloa, Weston does not employ impossible science.

Then there is the Singularity’s Children universe. You don’t need to have read the four volumes of Singularity’s Children to understand Saloa. If you have read it, it is a pleasure to see how things evolve in King Niato’s Atlantis.

Third is a layer I would call morality: people are capable doing good and capable of evil, and a person is not the same as people. This is a recurring theme in Weston’s books and it shows concern as well as optimism: things aren’t looking great but we are certainly capable of turning our luck around if we would be more considerate towards each other and towards nature.

Economics: Mesh and Meshcoin
Saloa’s underlying technology builds from Singularity’s Children’s Mesh, which was build from necessity. The Mesh is a non-commercial internet maintained by volunteers and connecting humans and non-human intelligences (i.e. animals and AIs) alike. Its Meshcoin – a distributed coin whose private keys have been destroyed so it has no proprietor – enables a common economy. The combination of Mesh and Meshcoin enables humans and non-humans to collaborate.

Re-paleofication
The autonomous corporation GaiaFAC is pushing Dünya’s (Earth’s) re-paleofication. It has decided humans are too big a threat for Dünya’s other creatures and will transform 90% of the planet back to wilderness in the course of the next ten thousand years. The wilderness is expanding at a rate of about a metre a day, wich brings the necessary conflict. Some meekly give in while others fight back with pest control, repairs and hunting.

The Klans’ commandments
A group of Klans left Dünya to live a better life in the Oort cloud. They started a military order called Koro. Kora are not soldiers per se – it is mostly about training, honour and loyalty. Their SETs unite the Klans: Self-Evident Truths – no first degree murder; no first degree rape (anything non-consensual); no first degree lying (including no propaganda).

Different Klans may work together or fight – the SETs unite them.

Strategy
Sixty years ago, Dünya attacked a new Klan space habitat. The Klans reacted with violence. Ever since, the Klan-Earth relationship has been very tense.

While the Koro are strong warriors and technologically much more advanced, the Dünyans are much greater in number and have more weapons. Within certain Klans voices are calling for disarmament.

This is the background against which Leimeiê needs to fulfill her mission. The result is Big Action and strategy with a very human side and strongly developing characters.

Mysticism
In this book, Earth is called Dünya as well as Saloa. Saloa is the Koro’s name for the planet and is seen as a slur. Dünya is the correct term.

Not only Earth but all planets, the universe and even reality itself get different names. Most names and ideas are derived from mythology, and Weston also uses it to place ‘reality’ in a larger context. The so-called StarShamen have this to say about it: “There is no reality.” Luckily the StarShamen – while pretty mystic themselves – are also just people who don’t take themselves too seriously and acknowledge that the shared virtual reality known as Consensus is not reality itself. The difference between them and other people is that StarShamen see no reason there shouldn’t be more layers of reality.

In his afterword, Weston declares: “I have an intuition that not only is sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from magic, but sufficiently advanced physics is indistinguishable from mysticism.” While not in his Top 100 Sci-Fi Recommendations, this strongly reminds me of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, in which mysticism and technology are interchangeable (also the book is circular: the beginning flows directly from the ending – if you haven’t read it you definitely should).

Room for more
All in all Saloa is a book firmly grounded in Singularity’s Children four volumes. It has a lot of room for new ideas and adventures in a universe that is not ours but remarkably like it, and our’s may one day become it.

The story is built calmly so as to provide a firm background, and maybe this is what shows the author is not contracted by a publisher. The story arc is reminiscent of Banks: you are invited in their universe, given a tour and then you sit down and they tell you a very gripping story.

Extras
The book contains helpful illustrations, and Weston is publishing a dramatis personae, a technological glossary, background science and his Top 100 Sci-Fi Recommendations list on tobyweston.net.

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