Tag Archives: space opera

Review: The Icarus Hunt, by Timothy Zahn

The Icarus Hunt, by Timothy ZahnThe Icarus Hunt, by Timothy Zahn (Bantam Spectra, 1999)

This is one of those novels that I loved on a first read and appreciate just as much (if not more) on subsequent visits when I can watch the hints and clues drop into place.

If Alistair MacLean were to have written a space thriller, it might look like this. Twists, turns, people who aren’t what they seem, and a protagonist I somehow trusted from page one even though his resume testified against him. (That might have had something to do with the way he dispatched three large, hairy aliens who picked a fight with him in a seedy spaceport tavern.)

Jordan McKell and his partner, Ixil, smuggle drugs for an interstellar cartel. (I’m very fond of Ixil, the alien with the two symbiotic, ferret-like “outriders.”)

The thing about McKell? You can’t stop him. So despite his unsavoury life, when he’s hired to lead a mismatched band of strangers flying a bizarre-looking ship across the galaxy to Earth, you know that somehow he’ll get it done. Despite increasingly strong opposition.

The Icarus Hunt is a chase. It’s also a puzzle, as McKell and his crew try to find out what makes this ungainly ship such a hot commodity.

This is a mainstream novel containing minor profanity, but otherwise what I’d class as a clean read. There’s violence, but it’s more punching or shooting than bleeding or screaming.

Timothy Zahn is my favourite science fiction author, and The Icarus Hunt may be my favourite of his stand-alone titles. He’s written over 40 novels, including some of the best ones in the Star Wars expanded universe, as well as numerous shorter stories. Along the way he’s won a Hugo Award and become a New York Times bestselling author.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Word Reclaimed, by Steve Rzasa

The Word Reclaimed cover artThe Word Reclaimed, by Steve Rzasa (Marcher Lord Press, 2009)

It’s 2602 and humans have developed interstellar travel and colonized planets. Major power belongs to the Realm of Five, with dissenters living on the fringes as Expatriates. The other players in this universe are the Martians, and I’m not clear if they’re humans who lived on Mars and then rebelled or if they’re another race entirely. What they are is hostile.

The Realm of Five’s Royal Stability Force, aka “Kesek,” is a nasty secret-police-type enforcer of political correctness, including the Realm-wide ban on any religions other than the state-created generic one that won’t “threaten the human spirit”.

When their spaceship stops to salvage the remains of another ship, Baden Haczyk discovers highly dangerous contraband: a Bible. Print books are things of the past, and people read on wireless devices called delvers. Along with other holy books, Bibles were thought to have been destroyed.

Should he sell it on the black market? Give it to Kesek before they come after him?

He’ll decide when the ship reaches the next space station. First, he starts reading it.

While the main plot thread of Baden and the book (and his difficult relationship with his father) plays out, a secondary thread follows cadet Alex Verge and his family on earth and into space on a military mission.

Author Steve Rzasa weaves two seemingly-different stories set in the same universe to mesh into one satisfying conclusion that dangles enough questions to make me want to read the next book in the series, The Word Unleashed.

One thing I enjoy about futuristic novels is the authors’ extrapolation of technology, specifically space travel. Steve Rzasa has some intriguing ideas that add an extra layer of interest to the novel.

I felt a degree of information overload in places, as if the author were giving me more background details than I needed to know. He’s done a thorough job of world-building (would that be “universe-building”?) and I can definitely visualize this story as an epic space movie. It has everything: ships, chases, action, explosions, battles, exotic locales… as well as relationships, political machinations and a thought-provoking plot.

One thing I’ve noted in other Marcher Lord Press books is the meticulous editing, and I was surprised to see some copy-editing issues here. Nothing more than you’d see most places, except for the fact that Alex is Alec for a while when we first meet him, but still not what I expected.

You can read a sample of The Word Reclaimed online. The remaining books in the Face of the Deep series are The Word Unleashed and Broken Sight. You can read an interview with Steve Rzasa (pronounced “Ra-zah”) on the Marcher Lord Press site or visit his website, The Face of the Deep. His newest novel is Crosswind, in the steampunk genre, and it looks intriguing.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Trading in Danger, by Elizabeth Moon

Trading in Danger cover artTrading in Danger, by Elizabeth Moon (Vatta’s War #1) (Del Rey, 2004)

Kylara Vatta chose a military career over the family’s interstellar shipping business. When she’s kicked out of the academy for a lapse in judgment, the best way to avoid the media frenzy is to accept her father’s assignment to deliver an old ship to a distant planet for scrap.

The job comes with a Captain’s rank and a seasoned crew. The ship’s not in too bad a shape, but it won’t pass its next inspection without expensive repairs. If Ky can pick up some good trades en route to the scrap yard, she could buy the ship herself, fix it up and go independent.

Following the family mantra of “trade and profit” puts Kylara and crew in the middle of an unforeseen interplanetary war. A civilian captain without Ky’s military training would panic and be killed. Young though she is, Kylara has a chance of bringing her crew out alive.

As well as action and adventure, the novel provides an interesting look at cultures, trading customs, and diplomacy. Characters are nominally religious, although that means choosing a sect to suit one’s philosophy. There’s no acceptance of an actual God (or devil).

Trading in Danger is the first in the Vatta’s War series. I want to see how some of the ongoing plot threads work out, and I enjoy watching Ky in action. She’s a strong female hero and I like her style. [At the time of posting this review, I’m ready to start book 4.]

I’d suggest picking up book 2, Marque and Reprisal, with the first book. I didn’t do that, and then I read the first chapter (included at the end of book 1). Suffice to say it starts with a bang and the chapter end is not a spot you want to stop.

Elizabeth Moon writes both science fiction and fantasy. To learn more about her and her books, visit her website, appropriately named Moonscape. Her novels have won Compton Crook, Nebula and Heinlein Awards and been nominated for a Hugo. I owe a special thanks to James at Fantasy in Motion for introducing me to this author through his interview with Elizabeth Moon.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Heir to the Empire (20th Anniversary Edition), by Timothy Zahn

Heir to the Empire cover artStar Wars Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition, by Timothy Zahn (Lucasfilm, Random House, 2011)

This is the novel credited with “reigniting the entire Star Wars publishing phenomenon” after the original movie trilogy (so says the dust jacket). Author Timothy Zahn adds:

“A more accurate statement would be that I was the first person since Jedi who was permitted to stick a fork into the piecrust to see if there was still any steam underneath. There was steam. Man, there was steam.” (Introduction, page xx)

Yes, there was steam, but a wet-blanket novel could have smothered it. Instead, Timothy Zahn delivered the Thrawn trilogy. Two things make this anniversary edition worth re-reading if you’ve read it before: it includes plenty of annotations from the author and editor, and there’s a new Thrawn novella at the end.

Okay, there’s a third reason too: it’s a good novel, true to the characters we know and love from the original movie trilogy, and it packs some satisfying explosions.

For those who haven’t read it (or who’ve forgotten), Heir to the Empire takes place 5 years after Return of the Jedi. Han and Leia are married and expecting twins, Luke is still discovering what it means to be a Jedi, and Chewbacca, Artoo and Threepio have key parts to play. The novel includes other characters from the movies and introduces some new ones, such as Mara Jade and Talon Karrde, who feature in other Star Wars novels.

It also introduces Grand Admiral Thrawn, of the blue skin and glowing red eyes, whose presence at the Battle of Endor might have resulted in victory for the Empire. Thrawn is a tactical genius with an ability to understand his opponents’ strategies and limitations by studying their people’s art.

I enjoyed the author/editor notes in the margins, discussing specific portions of the text. It felt a bit like watching a DVD with the commentary turned on. As a reader, it was interesting to see the whys and hows of some of the choices. And as a writer, it was a chance to learn from the experts.

The bonus novella, Star Wars: Crisis of Faith, fits chronologically after the novel Choices of One and before Heir to the Empire. It’s a satisfying showdown between Thrawn and one of his enemies, each commanding their respective forces. One of the viewpoint characters is Trevik, a member of a large, ant-like race, the Quesoth. We don’t know exactly what he looks like, but his thoughts feel very alien and his people’s culture and behaviour patterns are believably complex.

Timothy Zahn is my favourite author. Besides his Star Wars and Terminator novels, he has a raft of stand-alone and series titles. Apart from the young adult Dragonback series, they’re adult science fiction, clean reads with fairly mild language, clever psychological insights, intriguing aliens, and some of the best twist endings I’ve seen. My personal favourite is his Conquerors trilogy. His most recent titles continue his Cobra series: Cobra Alliance, Cobra Guardian and Cobra Gamble. His newest Star Wars title, Star Wars Scoundrels, releases December 2012.

[Review copy from my personal library]