Book Review: “The Matrioshka Divide” by Isaac Young

The Matrioshka Divide is a throwback to the Golden Age of science fiction, in the tradition of Heinlein and Asimov, where advanced spacefaring technology is used to explore political and philosophical ideas.

The main character is Samir Singh, a retired starship captain known as “the Butcher of Three Systems” for his actions during war. He is persuaded to come out of retirement to serve as captain on a vessel tracking down a signal from a derelict ship on the edge of galaxy. Captain Singh reluctantly accepts the mission, seeing it as a chance to redeem himself for his past.

As it happens, the old war veteran on a quest for redemption is one of my favorite sci-fi tropes, mostly because it is the main theme of my beloved KotOR II, and so I immediately became interested in Singh.

Then there is Erika Terese, the arrogant scientist convinced that her models tell her everything about how the universe works, and how to respond even to encountering new forms of intelligence. She believes everything can be measured, quantified, and understood with mathematical precision. She and the religious Captain Singh clash frequently.

Then there is Miles Kieth, the cynical pilot, who couldn’t care less about politics or religion, and is just out for his own sake. Or is he? Naturally, there ends up being more to the man than meets the eye.

And then we have Amos Singh, a descendant of Captain Singh (prolonged lifetimes allow for more distant relatives to survive contemporaneously with their ancestors), who wants to succeed to clear the family name and right the wrongs committed by the man who commands him.

Finally, there is Glen Tannis, the Machiavellian operative of the Free Exchange, the powerful shadow government that controls and manipulates all of human society. I love sinister organizations like this, reminiscent of the Bene Gesserit in Dune or the Timermen in Fitzpatrick’s War.

The book takes this cast of characters and throws them into an extreme situation, encountering incomprehensible aliens on the edge of the galaxy. But the aliens are really just there as a catalyst for the different characters to spar over their philosophical differences.

The concept of a crew on an isolated ship, in high-pressure situations and all distrustful of one another, is another trope that I love. It reminded me of Frank Herbert’s The Dragon in the Sea.  The characters clash repeatedly over their moral and philosophical beliefs, with allegiances changing frequently as their circumstances become more dire.

That said, I don’t mean to suggest the conflicts are purely philosophical. This is sci-fi after all, so there are plenty of space battles and shootouts too. The balance of spacefaring adventure and intellectual exercise that is one of the hallmarks of classic sci-fi is here.

The simplest way I can put it is, if you enjoyed my book The Directorate, with its blend of space battles and political machinations, you’ll probably enjoy this one as well. I could say more about the plot and the ending, but given that this book is relatively new, I don’t want to spoil anything for those encountering it for the first time. Sci-fi fans should definitely give it a try.


What's your stake in this, cowboy?