The Pride of Jai was supposed to be humanity’s greatest accomplishment—a space station made entirely by humans and their primitive computers, without “divine” cyber-technology provided by the sentient quantum supercomputers worshipped as Gods. And it was supposed to be a personal triumph for its young lead scientist, physicist Yasira Shien, whose innovative mathematics was key to the reactor powering it.
But something goes wrong in Yasira’s reactor, leading to an unexplained singularity that destroys The Pride of Jai and most of the people on it—and placing Yasira in the sights of angry Angels, the cyborg servants of the Gods.
According to the angels, Yasira’s reactor malfunction was the latest in a rising tide of disasters, intentionally caused to exploit vulnerabilities in the very pattern of spacetime and usher in horrific beings from beyond reality itself. They believe that the woman behind the disasters is Yasira’s long-vanished mentor, Dr Evianna Talirr—and they believe that Yasira, Dr Talirr’s favorite student, is the only one who can help them find her.
Spirited off to the edge of the galaxy and with her whole planet’s fate, and more, hanging in the balance, Yasira must decide who to trust: the ruthless angels she was always taught to obey without question—or the heretic scientist whose plans could change everything she knows to be true about reality.
I received an e-arc of this book for free for free in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Angry Robot Books.
I have no idea how to start this review. It had so much promise in the beginning and I was so excited about it, but by the end, it left me feeling a little cold. I enjoyed roughly about the first forty or so percent of this book but for me, it kind of went downhill from there.
Don’t get me wrong: there are things I genuinely enjoyed about this book. I loved how the main character is a queer autistic woman scientist in a loving relationship. The representation was there and the book is very diverse. It’s also an #OwnVoices book for queer and autistic representation. The societies in this book were presented to be effortlessly diverse and there are even gender-fluid angels. I think that the reasons why I didn’t fully enjoy it are my own and not everyone would agree. In the end, it’s all up to personal taste and I can see why others might enjoy it.
The writing was a little too hit or miss for me. The science can get a little too technical and I’m personally someone who prefers the science on her science fiction on the soft side. For the parts I did understand, I wasn’t too convinced. More on this later. For another, there was a bit too much telling and not showing. For example, it tells you a lot why a thing is this way but doesn’t actually show it. I don’t know how to explain it well, and I’m sorry but I personally prefer it if it was shown a little bit better. Also, it can get so repetitive about the whole ‘everything is a lie’ thing. I just felt like it was so repetitive and pretentious that I stopped caring about it and it got to the point that I’d roll my eyes every time I see it.
I also didn’t like how the book tended to switch between POVs so often. It feels sloppy, awkward, and unnecessary. I’d prefer it if the book just stayed in Yasira’s point of view as it’s in her perspective for the vast majority of the story anyway.
Let’s talk about the world-building. The Lovecraftian aspect was a hit for me- the idea of the Outside was interesting and fresh and I really liked the way it was handled. The cosmic horror really worked well and I enjoyed that part a lot. The insanity present in a lot of cosmic horror was described in The Outside and it fits the mythos well while also presenting a fresh spin to it.
But the AI gods however…this was so promising and it’s what made me interested at first but I wasn’t a huge fan of the execution. By the end of this book, I wasn’t sold on the idea of humans worshipping them. Like, okay so humans built them with their own two hands, programmed them, and then worshipped them? Okay…but how did it get to that point and why did humans start worshipping what were essentially their own creations- things that they created with, built from the computer to the programming. Wouldn’t that be a dangerous and odd thing to do given that you can destroy what you yourself made?
As for the societies present, I wish they were explored more. Like how are these societies governed? Do they have one-world governments or are the AI gods in charge of governance? How does it all work and what keeps the balance. What is Earth creole? Is it just English? An amalgation of Earth languages?
I don’t know- maybe I’m overthinking the worldbuilding and looking at it through the lens of a debater. And maybe I am being unfair dissecting this way too much. Still, as a reader, it doesn’t work as well for me as I hoped it would have and I was left feeling a little cold. Maybe, this all comes from me being a religious person so I was naturally resistant to the idea of AI gods. Maybe I’d like this more if it wasn’t for my background, I don’t know. I didn’t want to be too unnecessarily critical because I did want to like this book.
I did like Yasira’s character a lot. I love her character, her journey, the relationships she have, and the cat-and-mouse games she plays with her former teacher and mentor. Those were the high points of the novel for me. She’s a wonderfully complex character and while she’s definitely on the side of not hurting or killing anybody, she still has some shades of gray to her. I also liked the angels a lot, their interactions, their ruthlessness, and their intrigue. They’re very fascinating and it’s a shame I wasn’t a bigger fan of how it was executed. I would say I’d probably enjoy it more if it was more soft than hard sci-fi and focused more on character relationships.
If I were being honest, it feels lackluster. The plot focuses on a heresy that could tear apart everything they know about their world/universe and it just doesn’t stick its landing for me. I was more invested in the character side than the plot. Maybe I was just too stupid to understand how everything’s a lie when the characters are there and see these horrific things happening. I don’t know. I liked the angel Akavi’s character but they don’t really feel so threatening, not when they have superiors who don’t feel threatening either. Don’t get me wrong- Akavi is a fascinating and complex character but ultimately felt like an angel bureaucrat, also a cog in the machine.
Overall, I didn’t really enjoy The Outside that much, due in large part to my own personal preferences. I’d imagine this book would work for others and if the story and premise interests you, as well as the diversity in this book and queer and autistic representation, please don’t let my review discourage you. If you like hard science fiction and don’t mind how technical it is, then consider giving this a go.