Home Reviews Shorts Search

the_world_beforeThis is a review for The World Before, the 3rd instalment in the Wess’har Wars series by Karen Traviss; a story around Human behaviour towards other species and the general environment (our track record isn't great, to say the least), and the alien races they meet, who have a very different viewpoint on this, plus the technology to back it up.
The World Before is only the 3rd book (after City of Pearl and Crossing the Line in what is now planned to be a 6 book series, but the drive of the story and the quality of the writing are such that this is indeed a great and very enjoyable book, and a huge promise for what is yet to come in the 2nd half of the series.

Beware: This review contains spoilers for the first two books – if you’re planning to read the series (and I strongly recommend you do!) then don’t spoil your fun, unless you don’t mind knowing some of the main plot elements yet to come.

At the conclusion of the 2nd book in the series, Crossing the Line, the situation has gone to Hell in a Handcart, so to say. The peace-loving, tree-hugging (figuratively) Wess’har on F’nar have called in the Eqbas Vorhi, their big brethren they separated from millennia ago. The Bezeri are extinct due to Lindsay Neville nuking their island with Cobalt-salted nuclear bombs. The Actaeon, the only spaceship the humans have in the system, has been shot down in retaliation. And Shan, after capture by Lindsay, stepped out of an Airlock into empty space to prevent humanity gaining access to c’naatant, the symbiont she carried.

But, despite being up shit creek so far that the paddles are only a distant memory the story goes on – Ual, the Isenj Exterior Minister, is working with Eddie, against the wishes of his own government, in delivering Lindsay and Rayat as war criminals to the Wess’har, in exchange for help in solving their overwhelming ecological problems on Umeh. Eddie’s reporting, meanwhile, has brought Earth to the brink of all-out war, compromising him even more: And this was a regular day. Invasion. Breakfast with Aliens. The end of my career.
The Eqbas Vorhi, now in presence (Eddie: It was his first impression of them – big, gold, shiny, and rude), find a few surviving Bezeri, who only want to talk to Aras. And, most astonishing of all, an Ussissi patrol has found Shan in space. Alive. No one thought c’naatat was capable of this. The Eqbas decide meanwhile that Umeh is due for some ‘help’ in solving their ecological issues. Except that the Eqbas approach, as numerous planets prove, is much more drastic than anything the Wess’har on F’nar would have considered, or the Isenj would have dreamt of. Return to original state is the core strategy employed. And Earth is next in line, in about 30 years, when the ships arrive.

If all this does not make sense at all then you might want to start at the beginning, with City of Pearl and Crossing the Line. This is a great series from one of the new stars of UK SF, and more then worth reading. This 3rd instalment has much more drive than the 2nd again, which is a mighty promise for the second half of the series (6 books in total) – the final book is out next spring (yes, I’m slightly behind. Darn that reading stack). The book works on it’s own I guess, but you’ll get so much more out of this if you start at the beginning – I simply can’t encourage you enough!
In terms of concepts and technology we get all the staples of this universe: near-light travel, with coldsleep, ecology-focussed aliens who ‘balance’ your actions (eye-for-eye approach. Beware!), nanotech (aliens only. Humans are not that advanced), and the ubiquitous topic of c’naatat, with all the usual quibbles I have with this symbiont/parasite, which is a genetic sampler/splicer, providing ultra-fast healing, overnight adaptations of the body to changed genomes, and basically renders its carriers neigh-immortal. Great for the plot, but not very realistic IMHO.

Other parts, like the different approaches or philosophies concerning ecology, worth of life, conservation, restoration of ecospheres etc are really great, thought provoking, and done with verve. The ‘human’ dimension of the Shan/Aran/Ade householde, as well as the Lindsay/Rayat double act are great, and executed well, which gives the story a lot of depth.
There are also a lot of parallels to look out for – the most obvious one (yeah, I love simple examples!) is the relationship between the Wess’har and the Eqbas Vorhi, which is comparable to what the pacifist-vegan-fundamendal-christian settlers have with the military forces coming to their ‘aid’.
Overall a great page turner, highly recommended, from one of the new UK based talents on the SF scene. Go get them. You know you want to.

More Karen Traviss

Title: The World Before
Series: Wess’har Wars
Series Number: 3/6
Author: Karen Traviss
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  EOS
Publisher URL:
Publication Date: November 2005
Review Date: 2 Aug 2007
ISBN: 0060541725
Price: USD 7.5
Pages: 388
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Ecology


Sydney Padua - The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

Andy Weir - The Martian


Ian Sales – Adrift on the Sea of Rains


S.P. Somtow – I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City


Liz Williams - Empire of Bones


Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner


Ken MacLeod - Cosmonaut Keep


Charles Stross - The Atrocity Archives


Aliette de Bodard – In the Vanishers’ Palace


Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow


Doris Lessing - Shikasta


Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me


Somtow Sucharitul – Starship & Haiku


Doris Lessing – The Sirian Experiments


Iain Sinclair - Radon Daughters, Powered by Mambo!; free resources by SiteGround