It’s a more than a little strange to be writing about the last of my Summer 2016 reading list in Winter 2017, but damn it, I told myself I was going to write this column and I’m not letting myself off the hook.
As I wrote in updates to my “Summer Reading List 2016” column, I ended up reading 16 books, 1 novella, and 8 graphic novels. That’s my most productive summer of reading since college, and it felt great. That was particularly true in late summer as I took a mental health day to drive down to the shore and do nothing but read, swim, and read some more.
Impulse by Dave Bara
I’m always on the look out for new science fiction series that might be able to fill the void when The Expanse and Lost Fleet novels don’t have new volumes out (or, horror, reach their inevitable ends). Impulse (Amazon) was one of those, the first book in the Lightship Chronicles. It’s an unrepentant space opera series that harkens back to early Star Trek.
The protagonist, Lieutenant Peter Cochrane, is a James T. Kirk-like hero who was all set to explore strange new worlds aboard the Lightship Starbound when the Lightship Impulse is attacked before forces unknown. His former girlfriend dies in the attack and Cochrane — the son of his world’s highest ranking naval official — is re-assigned to the under-repair Impulse to help determine where the attackers came from.
It’s a by the numbers space opera, with Cochrane struggling with authority, romancing women, and getting thrown into impossible situations … just like a young Kirk It was an adequate book that doesn’t have me clamoring to pick up the next novel in the series, but
The Far Side of the Stars by David Drake
The Far Side of the Stars (Amazon) is the third book in David Drake’s Lt. Leary series, a space opera homage to Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Mautrin nautical historical novels. Following the pattern established by O’Brian’s early 19th century British navy novels, Lt. Daniel Leary’s successes in the first two books have run up against that classic enemy of the lifetime naval officer: peace.
As the book opens, peace has broken out between the Republic of Cinnabar and its long time enemy, the totalitarian interstellar state known as Alliance of Free Stars. As such, Lt. Leary and his long time friend, Adele Mundy, find themselves in need of employment.
Lt. Leary is able to acquire the command of his old ship, the Princess Cecilia, and hire on much of his own crew. They are then chartered by the Kilmovs, a rich couple from a backwater planet, to seek out a historical artifact of tremendous value. That mission takes them to the “far side of the stars”, a frontier space filled with disaffected Cinnabar Navy deserters, strange worlds, and stranger cults. The book has a pleasant Star Trek vibe as the Princess Cecilia visits a number of strange worlds seeking the Kilmovs’ lost relic.
It was an enjoyable read, though I’ll freely admit it usually takes me about 50-60 pages to slip back into the Lt. Leary mindset. Although it’s space opera, it has any number of anachronisms including starship “sails” that carry our heroes through the void and cannons that would be more at home on a 19th century ship of the line.
Shooting the Rift by Alex Steward
Shooting the Rift (Amazon) is another science fiction novel about another navy brat forced to deal with his family’s legacy. This time around, our hero (though he’s more an anti-hero) is Simon Forrester. He hails from a matriarchal world in which he’s viewed as a second-class citizen and a screw up who can’t possibly rise to the level of his mother, an admiral, or his sister, a marine.
That fact that he keeps proving them right is what drives the story forward, first with him getting kicked out of the naval academy, then thrusting him aboard the merchant starship Stacked Deck. The book is firmly in the space opera genre with a few trappings of cybernetics, but for the most part its about Forrester’s tendency to get himself into uncomfortable situations. I’ll happily read the next book when it comes along.
Shattered Spear by Jack Campbell
Shattered Spear (Amazon), the final book in The Lost Star series, brings the story to a muted conclusion. The major storylines involving President Gwen Iceni and General Artur Drakon — two former CIOs of the corrupt and authoritarian Syndicate Worlds — are resolved and their solar system of Gateway is established as a new outpost of democracy. The larger Lost Fleet questions — particularly those involving the Enigma alien race that’s plagued series since the beginning — remain unanswered. I was hoping for a least some sort of reveal regarding the Enigmas, but while we do get a large scale military engagement, we don’t really learn that much more about them. I suppose the Enigma answers will have to wait for Campbell to return to the main lost fleet series, something that doesn’t look to be happening any time soon.
Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
Shadows of Self (Amazon) is the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s follow-up trilogy to the original Mistborn series. The novel sees Waxillium Ladrian and his side kick Wax using their detective skills to investigate a series of assassinations in capitol city of Elendel.
I’ve enjoyed these books, which combine the unique metal-based magic system of the Mistborn with Old West sensibilities. The book itself is notable for delving deeper into the mysteries of the Cosmere, the metaverse in which most of Sanderson’s books are set.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Annihilation (Amazon) was an impulse read for me, replacing the novel Arkwright by Allen Steele (Arkwright got so-so reviews, and I wasn’t in the mood for reading an overlong, slowly-building novel about constructing a generational starship).
Annihilation is the first book in VanderMeer’s Southern Reach series, in which unnamed researchers explore Area X, a stretch of coast line cut off from civilization … and perhaps even our reality. This is a weird, dreamy book that teases at secrets humanity was never meant to know. In some ways its better than LOST; having read the rest of the series I can confide that the trilogy does answer its core questions in a round about sort of way. The first book is definitely the best, as it establishes the mythology. The other books build on it, but it’s an uneven build that doesn’t deliver on its central mysteries in the same way that Peter Cline’s The Fold or Stephen King’s Revival do (both of which deal with those selfsame unknowable secrets, but in a more satisfying way).