Cytonic: A detour into an unknown dimension

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsCytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsHumanity has been on the losing end of a centuries-long war with the Superiority, the main organization of galactic races, for decades, trapped on a desolate planet called Detritus and fighting an ongoing war using outdated, small spacecraft to keep from being exterminated. In the second book in this series, Starsight, Spensa Nightshade, a young spaceship pilot who first distinguished herself in Skyward, found a way to leave Detritus and travel to Starsight, a massive alien space station where the galactic government is located. Spensa joined the alien space pilot training program at Starsight while spying on the Superiority to try to find a way for humanity to better fight their captors. She also discovered the hyperjumping capabilities of her alien pet Doomslug, as well as the massive and deadly alien life forms called delvers, that can be manipulated to swallow a space station or planet whole and destroy it.

As Starsight ended and hostile alien soldiers were closing in on her, Spensa took a leap, literally, into the unknown: she entered a portal into another dimension, called the “nowhere,” along with her AI sidekick M-Bot. Cytonic (2021), Brandon Sanderson’s third book in the SKYWARD series, begins immediately on the heels of her stepping into this unknown dimension. Spensa hopes to use this portal to make her way back to her home and friends on Detritus, especially the friend for whom she’s developed Feelings. But a single delver encourages Spensa to stay and look for answers to the many questions she has about her own “cytonic” (psychic) abilities, and how she can hone those abilities to help her people.

The friendly delver tells Spensa to walk the Path of Elders, whatever that is, in the nowhere. However, Spensa’s plans are sidelined when she is promptly captured by one of the alien pirate gangs that inhabit the nowhere. Soon enough an energetic, chipper human, who goes by the unlikely name of Chet Starfinder, and even more improbably is riding on a dinosaur, thunders to her rescue. Chet cheerfully joins in Spensa’s plans to find and follow the Path of Elders, and though she is mistrustful of his motives, she needs his help to navigate the unique territory of the nowhere. Perhaps they can steal a starship from one of these ubiquitous pirate gangs?

The nowhere is a mysterious, otherworldly place. Huge fragments of land, each with its own unique climate and landscape, float around in space and occasionally collide with each other. In the nowhere, time and days melt into each other and a person’s memory tends to fade away. Chet seems to be someone whose original personality and memory has been lost, although Spensa thinks she may know who he is. But Spensa begins having trouble keeping her own memory and sense of purpose intact in the nowhere.

Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson

For many of its pages, Cytonic feels like a major detour in the overarching plot of this series, albeit a fairly entertaining one: we’re in an entirely new world, with a completely new cast of characters other than Spensa and M-Bot, and on a brand new quest that seems only tangentially related to the missions Spensa had in the prior two books. But Sanderson, of course, has a master plan, and it’s fascinating once a few surprising twists occur, previously hidden information starts to be revealed, and the pieces finally start falling into place.

Cytonic clarifies the link between the SKYWARD series and one of Sanderson’s older stories, Defending Elysium, which takes place centuries earlier, and Sanderson fans will find it worthwhile to check out (or revisit) that novelette, which is available to read on his website. Fans of this series may also be interested in three tie-in novellas/audiobooks that Sanderson has co-written with Janci Patterson: Sunreach, ReDawn and Evershore, which focus on other characters in this series (Freyja, Alanik, and Jorgen). Spensa’s adventures will be concluded in the fourth book in this series, Defiant, scheduled to be published in 2023.

Published in November 2021. Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home. Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator. Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy. The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return. To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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