Hard science fiction does not ever have to mean a light story peppered with dense, science-heavy prose. And this book shows you why.
The setting is an orbital, rotating space station a few hundred years in the future. It is one of several mining the orbital debris around one of our gas giants. A lot of the population is a type of artificial human called a “construct”, but there is also a hefty proportion of real humans – and this is the first interesting part: they are Indonesian.
Patty Jansen has done a stellar job of creating a credible and realistic futuristic cultural group that is rare in Western fiction. The protagonist and POV character, Melati, is one of this group, but she is also one of the very, very few who is also an employee of the non-Indonesian section of the space station. This means it is constant work for her because she struggles to feel truly part of either world. But it also creates lots of unique opportunity for her character to stand out and make the story move in ways that only someone in Melati’s position could do. And it also means she sometimes has to make hard choices that compromise one half or the other of her life.
This is not a generic mystery set in some futuristic space station. There is technology core to how this society works, such as that of imprinting a human personality on a body, that is integral to the story. In this universe, such a file is called a “mindbase”. This is hard science, too: faster-than-light travel is only just possible and very time-consuming, too. But mindbase tech has progressed to the point where people can “take a holiday” elsewhere in the system by sending their mindbase to another station. And it is several orders of magnitude faster to send a mindbase than a person. Meanwhile, a lot of the population find this idea more than a little squeamish. However, mindbase technology is also used for creating the constructs. And this is where Melati comes in, because she is employed in training the constructs. The story starts when one of her constructs wakes up with a rogue mindbase.
Without the science there would be no story. There is history to the way the mindbase technology has enabled the society to develop. There is science behind the motivations and actions of the antagonists.
Meanwhile, the players are still very human with human foibles and dreams. Including Melati. In some ways, especially Melati.
If there is anything a reader can learn from this novel, it is that you can only be what you are, not what others say you should be.
This is an extended version of my review on GoodReads.