Tag Archives: space travel

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: Hill of Great Darkness, by H. C. Beckerr

Hill of Great DarknessHill of Great Darkness, by H. C. Beckerr (WestBow Press, 2011)

In the year 2037, a prototype spaceship called Magellan sets out from Earth on a mission to test a revolutionary new propulsion system—and disappears. The US government will label what happens next “The Magellan Incident” and bury it deep in classified files. An international terrorist group will use whatever means necessary to find the truth and use it for mass destruction.

There’s much to like about this story. The technology is clever and plausible (to this non-scientist reader), the spacecraft itself is funded privately instead of being tied to a particular government’s agenda, there’s a terrorist threat, there are interesting characters, and there are surprises. There’s even a link to the past and the mysterious disappearance of the Native American people known as the Mississippians, of whom I had not heard.

The story is narrated from an omniscient viewpoint, complete with sprinkles of dry humour. While the voice is natural for relating anecdotes over coffee, the low-key delivery often “tells, rather than shows,” which might better suit a literary tale than an action-based plot.

The characters are a mix of heroes, scientists, ordinary folk and villains. Perhaps my favourite is Simone Syette, a brilliant Ugandan scientist who speaks her mind, trusts in Jesus Christ, and is the inventor of Magellan‘s drive unit. It’s clear that the author knows and loves his characters and has put serious time into developing them.

Hill of Great Darkness is a good story that could have been fantastic. The elements are all there, waiting to be teased out by a gifted editor. I’d love to see what Marcher Lord Press would have done with this.

The novel is well worth reading, and the ending sets up a sequel. You can read an interview with H. C. Beckerr at The Old Stone Wall (that’s where I won a copy of the book)  and connect with him on Facebook. Hill of Great Darkness is available in softcover, hardcover, and ebook formats. Amazon.ca, Amazon.com.

[Review copy won through a giveaway at The Old Stone Wall. Amazon links are affiliate links for The Word Guild.]

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.]