First Edition.
Publisher, Date:
New York : Del Rey, [2019]
412 pages ; 25 cm
"A group of intrepid heroes must band together to save civilization after a long dormant enemy awakens and strikes a devastating blow"-- Provided by publisher.
9780399593314 (hardcover : alk. paper)
System Availability:
Current Holds:
Control Number:
Call Number:
SF Bir
Course Reserves:
# System items in:
Author Notes
John Birmingham is the author of Emergence , Resistance , Ascendance , After America , Without Warning , Final Impact , Designated Targets , Weapons of Choice , and other novels, as well as Leviathan-- which won the National Award for Nonfiction at Australia's Adelaide Festival of the Arts--and the novella Stalin's Hammer: Rome . He has written for The Sydney Morning Herald , Rolling Stone , Penthouse , Playboy , and numerous other magazines. He lives on top of a hill with his wife, daughter, son, two cats, and two dogs.
First Chapter or Excerpt
Chapter One The rock turned silently in hard vacuum, and the young woman with it. She pressed her nose to the porthole, which fogged with her breath while she waited for night to sweep over this part of the base. It would come, dark and frozen, within a few minutes, revealing the star field of the local volume, the vast blue-green pearl of the planet far below, and the lights of the nearest Hab, another naval station like this hollowed-out moonlet. Lucinda waited for the stars. In the right mood, in a rare abstracted moment, she sometimes wondered at the way they wrapped themselves around her, seeming close yet infinitely distant. As she wondered, dusk came pouring over the small mountain range to the east, advancing in a wave of fast shadows and lengthening pools of inky blackness. She could not see the darkness coming for her on this part of the rock, but she imagined it swallowing the local area point defenses and the gaping maw of the docks. The entrance to the port was always illuminated, but the lights soon would burn with a severe brilliance in the accelerated night. She was not floating, but she felt light and only barely in touch with the deck in the standard one-tenth grav here on the surface as she inspected her reflection in the armor glass. A young woman frowned back at her. The uniform was not quite right. Tight at the shoulders, a little loose around the waist. The best she could afford. She regarded herself even more critically in the ready-to-wear black and whites. Severely pretty, she had been told by men she did not entirely trust. A little off-putting and perhaps unnecessarily discouraging according to girlfriends she probably could believe. Nonetheless. It would all have to do. "Lieutenant Hardy?" Surprised out of her reverie, she jumped a little, reaching out reflexively to the nearest wall to arrest herself before she could take gentle flight. She was embarrassed at being caught out. "Yes," she said, her voice catching just a little as she turned away from the view, reorienting herself to the spare utilitarian lines of the transit lounge. The glowstrips on the carbon armor walls were old enough to need replacing months ago. Rows of hard o-plastic seating looked bleached and brittle under the weak lighting. She was the only other officer in the space. The only other person for the last hour. This part of the facility was restricted, and foot traffic was thin. "Sorry for the delay, ma'am," the young man said, saluting. He was a baby lieutenant, a subbie, just out of the Academy she guessed from his age and eagerness, and his eyes went a little wide as he took in the campaign ribbons on her uncomfortably heavy jacket. He wore dark blue general-duty coveralls and carried a sidearm low on his thigh. Lucinda, in her black and white dress uniform, felt awkward in spite of her advantage in rank and experience. Her black and whites were obviously not tailor-made. She did not have the expense allowance from a family trust that some officers enjoyed. She returned his salute, painfully aware of the way her dress jacket rode up and the tightness of the sleeves. She tried to ignore the feeling that seemed to steal up on her with every new posting: that she was simply masquerading as an officer and soon would be found out. "You have the advantage of me, Lieutenant . . . ?" He stared at her blankly for a second, amplifying her sense of dislocation and fragile pretense. Then he went, "Ah!" and shook his head. "I'm sorry. You're not plugged in to shipnet. Bannon, ma'am. Sublieutenant Ian Bannon. I'm officer of the deck today. I'm sorry you've been left up here. It should not have happened." The young man looked distressed now, and his discomfort made her feel even more awkward. "I understand, Lieutenant," she said. "Everything needs to happen at once just before deployment." "Even so," he said, "I apologize." They shook hands on her initiative. His eyes flitted briefly to the colored rows of decorations again, but she could forgive that. He wore no decoration beyond the stitched half bar on one collar tab. "Sorry," he said when he realized she'd caught him checking out the fruit salad, but he smiled as he apologized. He had a boyish grin that Lucinda imagined had been getting him out of trouble his whole life. He looked practiced in its use. "They told me you fought in the Javan War," he said, catching sight of her duffel bag under the front row of seats and reaching for it before she could. Lucinda almost told him not to. She preferred to look out for herself. But Bannon held the lesser rank, and it would have been a slight to her if he had not offered. He lifted it carefully in the low grav, testing its mass. Nodding when he had the measure of the load. "I heard you were promoted in the field," he said, leading her toward the exit. "From ensign to lieutenant. I missed it all. Signed up to fight but didn't graduate until it was all over." Not looking where he was going, he banged his knee into a chair and cussed, then apologized for cussing. The bag floated up slowly like an improbable novelty balloon. "Whoa there," he said, adjusting his grip and stance and nearly tumbling over while he wrestled the duffel bag and his own mass back under control. "Damn." He grinned. "Been under ship grav too long." He shrugged off the moment in which she would have blushed fiercely. Lucinda found she could not help liking him. But also, she could not let him go on. "Thank you," she said, nodding at the bag. "But I went into the war as a baby louie, just like you. And I came out a fully grown LT simply because it went on long enough for my turn to come around." Bannon, unconvinced, gave her decorations a theatrically dubious side eye as they exited the bare surroundings of the transit lounge. "Chief Higo told me you were promoted in the field. And the chief is never wrong. He told me that, too." She essayed a small, uncertain smile. "I would never want to correct a chief petty officer," she said--and she was not lying--"but my first promotion, from ensign, that wasn't in the war. It was nothing, really. Just a small engagement on a counterpiracy patrol." "Okay." He grinned as though he knew she was hiding some greater truth. "If you say so." They walked down a long, wide corridor. The passageway curved into the body of the rock and twisted like an elongated strand of DNA. She could feel their descent in the deck's slope under her feet and the increasing pull of spin grav. There were no more portholes to the surface, only screens carrying g-data feeds and imagery from around the base. At first they passed no other personnel, but the traffic in automats and bot trains was moderate to busy, and once a Flotilla-class Combat Intellect floated past. They saluted the black ovoid lozenge. It pulsed in acknowledgment, turning briefly purple, before a female voice said, "Lieutenant Hardy, Lieutenant Bannon, good day to you both." The Intellect drifted on serenely. They watched it disappear around the twisting curvilinear passage. "Those guys," said Bannon, shaking his head. "So chill." The corridor spiraled down for another five minutes. Lucinda's duffel bag grew visibly heavy in her colleague's hand. She did not so much make conversation as ride it downslope. Bannon, unlike her, wasn't shy about talking about himself. By the time they stood in a secure reception bay, enjoying the one Earth-standard grav provided by the spin and the base's mass generator, she knew all about Bannon's family (wealthy but not ennobled), his service (just beginning), and the ship's command group (pretty chill except for . . .). "Except for this guy," he muttered out the corner of his mouth. Excerpted from The Cruel Stars: A Novel by John Birmingham All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
Fiction/Biography Profile
Lucinda Hardy (), Military commander, Uncertain; Commander of the Royal Armadalen Navy's only surviving warship;
Booker3 (Male), Soldier, Prisoner, Robot, Sentenced to die for treason; soldier of Earth; bodiless
Alessia (Female), Princess, Young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation; entire family executed
Sephina L'trel (Female), Criminal, Leader of an outlaw band
Frazer McLennan (), Admiral, Infamous hero
Space warfare
Intergalactic war
Rescue missions
Time Period
Large Cover Image
Trade Reviews

  Publishers Weekly Review

Birmingham's gripping near-future novel launches readers into a genocidal interstellar war amid sudden violence and dark humor. A long-exiled radical human group bent on killing any "impure" humans with genetic or mechanical modifications has executed a massive strike against the rest of human culture's defenses and elites. Standing in its way are one military ship with a new captain, a band of pirates, a bodiless criminal, a 12-year-old princess, and a legend. Birmingham alternates between gut punches and laugh-out-loud humor, with some gore and thought-provoking philosophy thrown in for good measure. Every character is a presence, including the villains, who are disturbingly convincing in believing their actions are for the good of all. Plenty of twists, sharp turns, and fateful encounters will keep readers guessing and turning pages. This jarring, engrossing story of a species-wide fight for survival is recommended for all science fiction readers. Agent: Russell Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

  Booklist Review

There is a rift among the humans who have spread throughout the galaxy: a divide between those who embrace genetic and technological enhancements to their bodies and those who reject them. The unenhanced lost a war and were exiled into the depths of space. Centuries later, they're back and intent on destroying those who would pollute human purity. Now the fate of humanity depends on a new military officer with something to prove, a pirate and her crew, a plucky princess, a condemned criminal, and an obnoxious living legend and his companion AI. Birmingham's series starter has everything going for it: interesting characters, immersive world building, a believable backstory, high-stakes conflict, visceral action, and credible villains. It's exciting and funny with just the right amount of tension and violence. This is what military space opera should be. Even the slightly contrived climax does not take away from the satisfying conclusion. The Cruel Stars is sure to be popular with military-science-fiction readers and fans of James S. A. Corey's The Expanse series.--John Keogh Copyright 2010 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

An uptight navy commander, an intelligent app aboard an android body, a lesbian pirate, a bored young princess, a curmudgeonly old warrior, and a snarky battle AI save the galaxy from angry species-ist cultists. Well, they make a start.Unsurprisingly for readers familiar with Birmingham's work (The Golden Minute, 2018, etc.), his latest trends toward the sanguinary. Centuries ago the Sturm, fanatics intent on "liberating" those they term true humans by exterminating anybody with genetic or cybernetic enhancements, attacked and were driven offjust barelyby Adm. Frazer McLennan and Herodotus, his battle AI. Now they're back. Their surprise attack on the prosperous and powerful Armadale system with warships and malicious computer code decisively knocks out the defenses. All is not lost, though. Decorated yet still insecure Lt. Lucinda Hardy finds herself in command of the Royal Armadalen Navy's only surviving warship. A Sturm attack on a prison compound enables Booker, a soldier app sentenced to deletion for treason, to switch to a robot body and escape. Pirate captain Sephina L'trel, whose usual operational mode involves ripping off outfits like the Yakuza, puts her nefarious skills to fighting the invaders. Warrior-turned-astroarchaeologist McLennan leaves off bickering with Herodotus long enough to take charge and organize the rescue of young Princess Alessia of Montanblanc, whom the Sturm captured after murdering the rest of her family. Following the introductions, the narrative canters along at a good clip, dashing off insane cannibals, exploding warships, detached heads, and cartwheeling body parts, with occasional transfusions of dark comic relief. Some highlights: McLennan appears stark naked to greet a bunch of pompous bigwigs; in a riotous bar scene, Sephina and crew, Yakuza, and Sturm all blaze away at each other; Booker's dismay at being loaded into a mechanical hedge trimmer.Frenetic action viewed in a black fun-house mirror. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
In this epic sci-fi adventure for fans of The Expanse and Battlestar Galactica , five intrepid heroes must unite to save civilization after a long-dormant enemy awakens and strikes a devastating blow<br> <br> "This jarring, engrossing story of a species-wide fight for survival is recommended for all science fiction readers."-- Publishers Weekly (starred review) <br> <br> The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of "species purists" intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true "Human Republic," the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong.<br> <br> The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity's defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind's only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy's only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L'trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all--or die trying.<br> <br> These five flawed, reluctant heroes must band together to prevail against a relentless enemy and near-impossible odds. For if they fail, the future itself is doomed. <br> <br> "Frenetic action viewed in a black fun-house mirror."-- Kirkus Reviews
Librarian's View

Add to My List