The Cold Minds, by Kristin Landon (Ace, 2008)

It has been centuries since the malevolent machine intelligences known as the Cold Minds conquered Earth and sent the remnants of humanity fleeing into the depths of space, where they established a refuge in the form of the Hidden Worlds. There, humanity has built itself a new home, but it’s by no means a paradise. The Pilot Masters, an elite caste who hold the secret of interworld and interstellar travel in an iron grip, rule the Hidden Worlds, imposing their will and privilege upon the masses. A few planets prosper; many struggle to get by on the outskirts. And somewhere out there, the Cold Minds are still looking to finish the job of subjugating the human race.

But now a challenge to their piloting monopoly has arisen, in the forms of Iain sen Paolo and Linnea Kiaho, the former a Pilot Master exiled from the Line, the latter a woman who defies the strictly-held belief that women can’t pilot at all. From their base on the planet Terranova, they’ve started recruiting pilots from outside the Line, hoping to build a free coalition that will break the Pilot Masters’ stranglehold on travel, communications, and shipping. Moreover, they’re all too aware that the Cold Minds have already found the Hidden Worlds, their nanobot-infested slaves preparing for all-out invasion. Unfortunately, a great many plans are thrown into disarray when the Cold Minds launch a daring, merciless assault upon Nexus itself, home of the Pilot Masters, capturing or killing many of them in the process. When the survivors regroup on Terranova, they’re forced to work with Iain and Linnea, but will politics and infighting doom the fragile alliance before the Cold Minds destroy them? Or will an ill-conceived attempt to reclaim Nexus spell doom for the Pilot Masters? One thing’s for certain: Iain and Linnea couldn’t have picked a worse time to try and build a relationship together.

Clearly, there’s a lot going on in this book, which is actually the sequel to The Hidden Worlds. There’s the romantic subplot between Linnea and Iain, which dovetails with Linnea’s attempts to overcome recent emotional and mental trauma. There’s the politics within the Pilot Masters, both before and after Nexus is invaded, which run into Linnea and Iain’s attempts to find and train new pilots. And then there’s the overall plot involving the Cold Minds and their attempt to conquer humanity. Luckily, even though there’s plenty of plot to go around, and Kristin Landon bounces between viewpoints and settings frequently, it’s not too hard to keep up with things. This is a nicely-told space opera, some of its elements highly reminiscent of Steve Miller and Sharon Lee’s Liaden series, though it clearly has its own distinct identity.

I have to say, the aspect of this book I found the most interesting was the paranoid, claustrophobic nature of the Cold Minds and their infiltration of human society. When anyone can be a potential tool or traitor, it makes for an interesting story. The descriptions both of Nexus post-invasion, and the true nature of the Cold Minds’ own pilots are chilling. The story falls a little short for me in the emotional development between Iain and Linnea; I’m not sure why, but their chemistry lacks something, and it’s hard to get too excited or worried about whether they find happiness together, though Landon does a good job of keeping it uncertain.

All in all, I really did enjoy this book. The plot is fast-moving, the setting interesting, and the danger all-too-real. Landon isn’t afraid to shake up the status quo, and she’s clearly got a knack for world-building. As romantic space operas go, The Cold Minds is pretty good, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Landon does next with the series, despite my own minor quibbles.

Originally reviewed for SF Site, 2008

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