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The Strange Taste of Metal


Loved it! 😍

What do you get if you cross Becky Chambers, Andy Weir and James S. A. Corey? You get K. A. Burgess, and I can't wait for the sequel.

When we join John Spark - the practical 'help' - we are introduced to an 'ensemble' of characters bound on an expedition to an exo-planet called Aemilia. As the team gell, we get the sense that we are on board with a bunch of pretty nice folk, albeit with some secrets: at this point we're in Becky Chambers territory. Things heat up when we land on Aemilia - a journey through a fully fleshed-out and exotic eco-system that's a joy to read. As things get hard, though, we plunge into a technical problem-solving race for survival worthy of Weir's The Martian. When our heroes finally get back to our system, the unexpected awaits in a James S. A. Corey-esk climax.

This is not a novel driven by any character's inner tensions or struggles, but by events and simple wonder. Even so, the characters are well drawn, if sometimes lacking in emotional depth (inevitable in an 'ensemble novel' of this kind). You'll find your own favourite, and each has a quirk or two that makes them human and engaging. I bonded with Phelps the pilot, with his love of old music.

The plot twists and turns like some crazed creature from Aemilia, but events are foreshadowed skillfully, and the book is full of 'slap on the forehead, ah, I see!' moments. The challenges the expedition face are realistic, and you're left suspecting that Burgess must have faced a few such in real life.

If I have a criticism, it's that the structure of the book slows the pace towards the middle, where we might expect an escalating crisis, but what is actually happening is a lull before the storm as the expedition (and the reader) understand something of the strange biology of Amelia. This is necessary background to establish layers and depth to what happens towards the end, but is a narrative risk. Burgess navigates it well, though, even if it leaves the conclusion feeling slightly compressed.

In the end, these are just niggles. Although I have drawn comparisons with other writers (and anyone who is a fan of Chambers, Weir, or Corey will enjoy this), Burgess has her own voice. She delivers her story with compassion, skill, and depth, whilst generating a strong sense of intrigue that develops into an ending that will leave you wanting more. The acid test? I can't wait for the promised sequel.

Reviewed by

Garrick Fincham (ex-archaeologist) is a data nerd by day, SF junk modeller by night. He writes character driven dark SF in which the settings are characters too, mostly horrid ones. He lives in Norfolk (UK) with family, pets and a collection of old radios. If you are what you eat, he is sausages.

Happy Gaspers

About the author

K A Burgess lives in a small town in New South Wales, Australia, with her cat, dog, wayward chickens and an extended family of friends. She works in the local library and loves the environment, books, science, music, world events, travel and social justice. She taught ESL in Japan for 4 years. view profile

Published on March 01, 2023

Published by

100000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Science Fiction

Reviewed by