Book cover: Acadie - Dave Hutchsinon (spaceships against green spacescape)The Colony have hidden from Earth for 500 years, screened behind their dewline, protected by their superior technology and their augmented intelligence. But as humanity colonises the stars, they have never stopped hunting their wayward children. Who will inherit the stars?

After Fractured Europe, I’ll pretty much pick up anything by Dave Hutchinson writes – add in space opera and there was no keeping me away from this new Tor.com novella.

John Wayne Faraday was a lawyer for the Bureau of Colonisation – but when he criticised some sharp practice, he was invited to shut up or quit. Now, he’s the President of the Colony, a small, wayward group of habs and ships descended from a group of brilliant scientists who fled Earth rather than be forced to give up their research into human modification.

In the Colony, nobody bats an eye at your extra arms or out-sized head (or anything else, really); and politicians are elected strictly on the basis of who least wants to do the job. Faraday – now known as Duke – ended up President because he was on holiday during the election. The Kids – carefully crafted, inhumanly intelligent, mostly given to squabbling about finer details – are savants who drive their technology forward, but it’s a relaxed civilisation about everything except external security.

Because if Earth find them, they will all be killed.

The novella begins with a probe entering Colony space – and being shot down. It’s a difficult time to be President, but Duke handles it well. Soon the Colony is packing its bags. But when Duke and his closest allies stay behind to obscure the final traces they were ever there, he finds himself face to face with an AI that believes itself human – and has less interest in its own status than in persuading Duke that everything he things he knows about the Colony is a lie.

This is all good stuff: a back story of dubious government practices and visionary mad scientists, with strong suggestions that each side is as bad in its own way as the other. The government of the day were repressive conservatives and the modern Bureau is clearly given to bad behaviour, but there’s no particular evidence that the Colony’s founders weren’t every bit as unethical as their critics claim.

But this is also where the novella falters for me: in spite of spending three-quarters of its short length on building the historic and current context, it still wasn’t enough world-building to help me form a clear enough view of either civilisation or to pick sides. Crucially – given the climax questions perception, propaganda and reality – I found I couldn’t judge what was true. While that put me right in Duke’s shoes, it lacked the emotional kick of investment that I needed to really care about the outcome (it didn’t help that the characters are thumbnails at best; but I couldn’t tell if this was a clue that they weren’t actually real or whether they were just a casualty of the short form).

That said, this is a fast, easy, enjoyable read with Hutchinson’s trademark mix of politics, menace and bureaucracy – but it feels more like a prologue or a pitch than a satisfying tale in its own right. I think it would work better with much more room to breathe (although I also think it will reread better than it reads the first time, so I may revisit it come SciFi Month and see if that changes my mind). And I’d certainly be interested in novel-length stories set in this universe.

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I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.