What Must a Good Science Fiction Story Have?

 

I’ve returned to the land of the living.  My eyes track.  I can walk through a doorway without colliding with a doorjamb.  I can even keep up a conversation without sliding sideways off my chair onto the floor.  Next week I climb the Matterhorn.  Bravissimo!

I looked through the news feeds.  And, so help me, I even considered watching the Georgia run-off.  But there just wasn’t anything the least bit interesting.  I even considered pulling a Jussie Smollett.  I was going to claim that a Canon camera enthusiast sent me a derogatory e-mail making fun of my many bison photos of the day.  But my hard-bitten honesty just wouldn’t let me do it.  I love those bison!

I thought, “I’ll just write about something I like.”  After all that post about nuclear war had some great comments and that stuff really interests me.  Why not do something like that?  So that’s why this is coming out of left field.  I just didn’t feel like beating a political drum that’s already been beaten to a bloody pulp.

So, for a theme I’ll select the question, “What’s the most important component of a good science fiction story?”

Is it the tech?  Is it a good plot?  Is it well written characters?  Or does it absolutely require some balance between the three?

Let’s explore this a little bit.  Start with tech.  I suppose that space opera has lost a lot of support among the modern readers of science fiction.  Stuff like the Skylark of Space, The Legion of Space or the Lensman books are probably disqualified as too naïve and hopelessly early 20th century for anyone under sixty to consider reading.  But is the inexplicable faster than light (ftl) drives of these stories any less plausible than whatever also implausible ftl drives are currently being used by modern science fiction writers?  I’ve got to say I don’t think they’re disqualifications.  I’d say the rule is it just has to be self-consistent with whatever “rules” you’ve made up for the tech.  So, it doesn’t have to be somehow scientifically accurate.  It just can’t be bone-headedly stupid.  What it does have to be is convenient.  The technology has to allow the plot to evolve the way you want.  If space travel takes centuries, then don’t kill off too many good characters by leaving them back on Earth.  Or if time travel can only go backwards then don’t leave your spare batteries for your ray gun in your other pair of pants when you head back to the neolithic.

And the tech should be a fun toy for the reader if you can manage it.  I always loved how Heinlein lovingly designed his “torchships” and made the passenger and service areas of his ships seem well thought out.  But I also know of authors whose tech is basically a black box and for all we hear we could be sitting inside the fuselage of a jet plane.

While tech is necessary (after all it is sf) it’s not the deciding factor whether a story works.

Well, how about characters?  Yes, they are important, in the sense that they must at least exist.  But I’ve read some supposedly classic science fiction where the characters are as flat as pancakes (Asimov and Clarke come to mind).  Now this may no longer be the case.  I’m not sure.  I enjoy a good amount of character development in my fiction and I’ve been able to find it.  But I could easily believe there could be a very good story where character was in short supply.

What about plot?  Well, I could imagine a story that had a strong tech component and interesting characters but the plot was almost minimal.  Maybe like some of Bradbury’s short stories like the one where the Ladies’ Sewing Circle is trying to ignore the impending nuclear holocaust by concentrating on their work.  It’s all character.  But I guess you still have to say there’s a plot or more like a scenario.

I feel like, for the most part, and except for very odd stories, the sine qua non of a good science fiction story is a good plot.  If your tech is passable and your characters are at least bearable but you have a plot that rolls along and interesting stuff happening then you have a chance.  But you can have great tech and witty, erudite, droll fellows populating your world and if not much of anything is happening except talk, then your readers will throw the book against the wall (or the digital equivalent) and go look for something better.  And that’s that!

Now I know there are many sf fans in the audience.  I’d love to hear your comments, especially if you disagree.  I’m always interested in the opinions of sf readers.  The floor is now yours.

Nuclear Armageddon as a Plot Device

Recently Joe Biden made the news when he reversed a campaign vow and stated that under his administration the United States would maintain the right to nuclear first strike as a military option.  Now the idea of Dementia Joe mistaking the nuclear football for his tv remote and ordering up an all-out nuclear blitz on Russia and China while trying to access some kind of hair fetish programming is obviously concerning.

But really this article is more about fiction writing.  In a story that I have been working on (forever) I reached a point in the story where I considered that the best way to escape from the corner I’d painted myself into was by having thermonuclear war break out between Russia and the United States.

Admittedly, that seems like a sad statement on my writing abilities but in point of fact it provided a definitive solution to multiple plot problems I was faced with.  After all, there aren’t many scenarios that can put the US federal government on its heels.  But three 20-megaton thermonuclear ICBMs detonating over Washington is a leading contender.  So, I will confess that I considered the scenario very carefully.

One thing I noticed though is that the impact of a nuked United States is extremely disruptive to a storyline.  Even the most tyrannical US administration looks quite different after the mushroom cloud sprouts over it.  Because now all of a sudden millions of Americans are dead and the ones still living are stunned, scared and desperate for a path forward.  At that point they’d follow Satan himself if he knows where to get food and fuel.

So, everything in my story is turned upside down.  Instead of the plucky rebels fighting the evil feds in a series of hit and run attacks, suddenly they find themselves wondering how they’ll survive without the now non-existent FEMA agency to save them from starvation and hypothermia.  Now what happens to my rebellion story?  All of a sudden enemies need each other just to survive.  Freedom and independence suddenly don’t mean much when staying alive requires all hands-on deck.

So that’s the change in the atmosphere, the feel of the story.  Does it still make sense?  Can the story survive the change?  Not as originally conceived.  I was looking at a series of stories with the rebels taking on the Deep State one step at a time with the rest of the country sizing up the battle and the balance of power gradually tilting toward the rebels.  But now the battle is over but without the dramatic tension and the action.  Instead, we have a tale of catastrophe and dissolution.

And to make that story work will require a change in emphasis.  Now instead of a slowly building wave of battle we have a nuclear wipe out and a tide going out.  Instead of a war with winners and losers we have the flotsam and jetsam from a deluge struggling to survive and trying to rebuild some kind of patchwork of settlements.  That’s a totally different thing.  It becomes a bunch of smaller stories at the village level.  Instead of armies we have farmers and mechanics, men and women and their children trying to survive without supermarkets and gas stations, even without electricity.  It’s nothing like the story I was envisioning but somehow it makes sense.  Because even though we may have forgotten about the atom bomb it hasn’t gone away.  It’s still there and it has its own internal logic that makes it the executioner of last resort.  If we decide that the arc of history bends in our direction and we can do as we please no matter what, we may find that the arc is just the ballistic track of an ICBM.

So inexorably I think the story is telling me to make a turn.  Even as a fictional plot device it does make one pause.  Imagine the largest fifty American cities reduced to rubble and charred bodies.  Imagine fallout killing off a quarter of the survivors.  And food and fuel gone for the rest of the survivors.  The grimness of such a tale is hard to overstate.  How do you tell such a story so that people will want to read it?

Well, that’s a subject for another day.  But this one has helped me get my thoughts in some kind of order.  Okay, hit all those buttons!

RoboCop (1987) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Paul Verhoeven directed this sci-fi adventure movie.  Strangely he made it to be a satire of the violence of law enforcement during the Reagan administration but audiences liked its anti-crime message.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

 

RoboCop opens up on a police precinct in Detroit (Metro-West).  It’s some kind of futuristic present (1980s) where the dystopian crime-ridden Detroit is being addressed with the introduction of robotic police.  The first prototype is being demonstrated at an executive board meeting of OCP, a technology company that surprisingly also has links to the underworld.  Unfortunately, the robot gets a glitch in his programming and kills one of the officers of the company during a demonstration.  This reflects poorly on Dick Jones, the senior vice president and also secretly, the contact for the underworld figures involved with OCP.  The failure of the prototype allows Jones’s competitor, Bob Morton to steer the company toward a different robot cop concept.  Morton’s version is a man whose brain has been destroyed in an accident and whose body can then be retrofitted with robotic limbs and an electronic brain.

Enter Alex Murphy a young cop with a wife and young son.  He’s just been transferred to Metro-West where he’s paired with street smart woman cop Anne Lewis who, of course, has a heart of gold.  They head out to do good and get involved with a criminal gang headed up by Clarence Boddicker (played by Kurtwood Smith, who played Topher Grace’s father, Red on “That Seventies Show”).  Boddicker is Dick Jones’s criminal partner.  He’s also a sadistic maniac.  When his gang captures Murphy, Boddicker personally mutilates him by blowing his limbs off with a shotgun.  Then his men finish him off with their guns.  Lewis escapes and goes for help.

In the next scene Murphy’s body has been converted into a cyborg that has been named RoboCop and assigned to Metro-West.  He has four prime directives

  • Serve the public trust
  • Protect the innocent
  • Uphold the law
  • Never arrest an officer of OCP

Of course, the last directive is a secret one built in by OCP to allow them to break the law with impunity.

Now RoboCop begins to discover the link between Boddicker’s gang and the murder of Officer Murphy.  Although RoboCop is not supposed to have any memory of his former life it does start to creep into his consciousness.  During this time, he captures several of the gang members and discovers the link between OCP and Boddicker.  At this point in the story Dick Jones has Boddicker murder Bob Morton.

Finally, RoboCop manages to arrest Boddicker and his gang but Jones has them released.  Identifying Jones as the OCP link to Boddicker, RoboCop attempts to arrest him but discovers prime directive four prevents him.  Now RoboCop is attacked by the OCP SWAT Team and escapes after being damaged.  Officer Lewis hides him in a factory where she assists him in repairing himself.

The final showdown against Boddicker’s gang includes the use of rocket powered grenades that OCP has provided to Boddicker.  After a drawn-out battle RoboCop kills the whole gang.  Boddicker offers to surrender but RoboCop tells him “I’m not here to arrest you.”  And so, he kills Boddicker in cold blood.  Apparently, his restored memories have superseded some of his programming.

Finally, RoboCop shows up at the OCP board room to expose Dick Jones as a criminal.  When Jones takes the Chairman of the Board hostage RoboCop reveals to him that he cannot arrest any OCP executive.  The Chairman says, “Jones you’re fired.”  And RoboCop immediately dispatches Jones with a full clip of bullets that drive him through the window of the skyscraper penthouse to his death on the pavement below.

RoboCop is a cartoon of a movie.  The villains are cartoon characters.  The hero is a robot almost completely devoid of personality.  Even the good guys are cartoon sketches of cop movie stereotypes.  The violence and weaponry are both over the top.  It’s definitely a 1980s action movie.  But within its genre and its intent it’s an enjoyable cartoon.  Everyone is waiting for RoboCop to finally kill off the sadistic psychopaths that murdered his alter ego who once was a husband and father.  I recommend this movie to fans of the genre.  If you liked some of Schwarzenegger’s movies from that era, like Predator and Terminator you’ll probably like this movie too.  If not then maybe not so much.

It Came from Outer Space (1953) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I won’t put in the typical spoiler alert because it just doesn’t matter.

In this movie an amateur astronomer, John Putnam, happens to be out in his backyard in what looks like Arizona, looking through his telescope when what appears to be a meteor hurtles to earth in his vicinity.  Being a man of action, John gets his friend Frank to helicopter him to the scene of the crash.  And of course, he brings along his girlfriend Ellen.

When they get to the crater John goes down to the “meteor” and finds that it is a spacecraft with something alive in it.  But somehow the ship causes a landslide that covers itself up.  From this point on John attempts to convince everyone that he isn’t crazy when he claims there is a ship from outer space in the crater.

Only Ellen believes him and they go around town trying to convince the sheriff and the scientists from the local college.  Eventually the aliens start kidnapping humans and replacing them with look-alikes.  But because these aliens are so boring people start suspecting something is wrong.   And here is where we meet the biggest “star” in the cast.  One of the kidnapped humans is George played by Russell Johnson, better known to the world as the “Professor” on Gilligan’s Island.  Johnson plays his part with all the acting skill that he would later demonstrate on that famous island.  Amazing.

Anyway, eventually the rest of the town figures out that John knows what he is talking about and under the leadership of Sheriff Matt Warren they organize a posse to go and put the smackdown on these aliens.  But by this point John has finally located one of the aliens and gotten their side of the story.

Apparently, the aliens crashed to Earth and have been attempting ever since to repair their ship.  They’ve impersonated humans to obtain supplies for the repairs.  Apparently copper wire is an important part of faster than light technology.  The humans they captured have not been harmed and will be released if the aliens are able to repair the ship before the humans have a chance to interfere with them.

When John asks the alien why they don’t just come out in the open and meet the humans, he comes out of the cave he’s hiding in and reveals his appearance to John (1), (2).

Apparently, their appearance is so terrifying that John goes into hysterics for a few moments.  Personally, I think it would be more likely that most people would break out into laughter if the aliens showed up in town.  They sort of resemble what a giant Mr. Potato Head toy would look like if only one eye was stuck on where the nose should go and then asbestos was glued on as hair.  After his hissy fit John agrees to help the aliens escape by preventing Sheriff Matt from rousting them out of their cushy lair in the convenient old gold mine outside of town.

It is while John is trying to prevent the sheriff from attacking the aliens that Matt makes a speech which was the only part of the movie I remember from when I saw it fifty some-odd years ago.  Matt looks at the thermometer and says, “It’s ninety-two degrees!  I remember reading that more murders are committed at ninety-two degrees than any other temperature.  Below that temperature people are in their right minds.  Above ninety-two it’s too hot to do anything.  But at just ninety-two people get irritable!”  I really enjoyed that scene.  In fact, I enjoyed it more than the whole rest of the movie put together.

Anyway, the posse is rounded up and on the way to the mine they manage to kill one of the aliens driving a pickup truck.  It was a pretty nice truck.  John heads down into the mine first and one of the aliens disguised as Ellen tries to kill him with a laser wand.  But John manages to shoot her and she falls into a puddle in the mine.  Then John finds the leader of the aliens who is disguised as John(!) and talks himself into waiting before attacking the humans with his death ray.

John gets all of the hostages out of the mine and uses some handily placed dynamite to close up the mine entrance to prevent the posse from lynching the potato heads.  As the posse and the freed hostages watch the space ship breaks free of the earth and heads back into space.  And John tells us that one day they’ll return and human and potato heads will live in peace together.

Wow!  This movie was based on a story by Ray Bradbury.  I’ll have to go back and read that story.  If it really resembles the plot of this movie, I’ll have to rethink my appreciation of Bradbury.  Anyway, this is all harmless stuff from the early days of B-movie sci-fi.  I’ll recommend this thing as campy nostalgia from simpler times.  It would have made a good movie for a drive-in date.  Something you wouldn’t have minded missing during the clinches.  Your milage may vary.

When Worlds Collide (1951) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I haven’t seen this movie since I was a kid.  Back then I had read the book and the sequel, “After Worlds Collide.”

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The plot is relatively straightforward.  Astronomers discover a small star and a planet circling it entering the solar system.  It is calculated that within a year the star will collide with and destroy the Earth but the new planet will be captured by the sun and might provide a possible home for some humans to colonize if a rocket can be launched.  At first most scientists discount the crisis.  But a few industrialists believe the danger and begin building a rocket for the journey.  One selfish millionaire, wheel-chair-bound Sydney Stanton, agrees to finish funding the rocket only if he is on the passenger list.  The project team races desperately against time to complete the rocket before the end of the world.

The project is run by Dr. Cole Hendron who along with his daughter Joyce and Dave Randall provide the human interest for the story.  Randall doesn’t want to go along on the trip because he doesn’t believe he is entitled due to a lack of needed skills that the mission requires.  But Joyce (of course) is in love with him so eventually they trick him into going based on his abilities as the only qualified but unnecessary co-pilot.  As the moment of truth comes, we see Earth devastated by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tidal waves that destroy all the coastal cities.  Finally, the fifty passengers are drawn by lots and just as the ship is preparing to launch the unlucky lottery losers attack the ship with guns.  Dr Hendron decides at the last minute to remain on the ground to provide a margin of error for the fuel and while he’s at it he prevents Stanton from getting on the ship too.  As the ship launches Stanton staggers to his feet.  An Armageddon miracle.

We get to see Earth destroyed.  Improbably the Earth blows up in a giant fireball without coming in contact with the star.  The ship reaches the new world and Randall finally has to glide the rocket to a landing after its fuel tanks are completely emptied during the braking maneuver.  The landing is rocky but doesn’t kill them.  And of course, the air is good and there’s green life growing on the ground and it looks like there may be the ruins of cyclopean buildings nearby.  Joyce and Randall embrace, a dog gives birth to puppies and everybody rejoices at the first dawn on their new world.

The only familiar faces were Larry Keating playing Dr. Hendron and John Hoyt as Stanton.  The rest of them were completely unknown to me.  The special effects aren’t very good.  But they weren’t awful.  The acting was sturdy B movie Hollywood acting of the time.  About what you’d expect in a decent western or a melodrama.  I quite enjoyed it.  The plot is simple but quite relatable on both a human-interest level and as a science fiction story.  I’ll say this is recommended for science fiction fans especially for connoisseurs of the 1950s period in the genre.

What Does Science Fiction Want for Our World Today?

Back when my father was a kid science fiction was all about rockets to Mars, flying cars and atomic power.  The world would march forward in the same way that it had after science advanced in the generations before.  It would engineer applications for atomic power in the same way that earlier generations applied knowledge of chemistry and physics to create the internal combustion engine and airplanes.

When I was a kid science fiction had progressed to where relativity and quantum physics were assumed to be susceptible to human genius and no barriers were too tall to prevent humans from colonizing the stars, travelling through time and even traipsing into other dimensions.  Now this made for a lot of interesting stories about universes where humans could meet up with all kinds of amazing creatures and events.  But at some point, you have to wonder if the word “science” in the name science fiction should be changed to fantasy.  And that’s fine.  Having faster than light (FTL) travel opens up so many story lines for an author that it’s hard to resist.  Otherwise, we’re stuck with multi-generational ships depending on relativistic time dilation to reach the nearest stars in one or two hundred years.  Which, by the way, makes for a lot of very interesting sociological phenomena on the ship.  But anyway, you can see how FTL travel would be a very desirable pseudoscientific device.

But here we are something like a hundred years on in the “modern” science fiction timeline and we’re still engulfed in the FTL travel trope.  And we’re still nowhere near any kind of science that would lead us to believe that FTL travel is even remotely possible.  So, in my mind maybe science fiction needs to start looking at science again for inspiration for new themes.

Thinking about this, it’s not like there aren’t all sorts of scientific discoveries and avenues for new technologies that are not only possible but also exciting building blocks for science fiction stories.  In biology we have gene therapy and longevity research.  In computer science there is artificial intelligence and cybernetics.  The reality of atomic power as a replacement for fossil fuels is not really science fiction as much as fact but there are enough questions about how it will change the present world that it could provide plenty of fodder for stories.  And human exploration of the solar system is now much better understood than it was even back during the Apollo program.  Reimagining the directions that something like landing on Mars will take has already been a successful idea for one author who even saw it turned into a successful movie.

Perhaps some of this sounds a little tame for science fiction readers.  On the contrary, sticking to the reality of what it would take to put a small colony on Mars should allow a good author to engineer in plenty of human interest and adventure.  I could see how a story based on capturing and harvesting an asteroid filled with gold and platinum would make a very exciting tale.  A good author would include the part of the story that involves very rich and powerful individuals scheming to hold onto the profits from a mission that might include the most powerful nations on Earth claiming the assets as the “legacy of all mankind.”

So, this is something I’ve been thinking about lately.  Now I like space opera as much as the next guy.  I’m very comfortable with galactic empires and multiverse.  They’re great fun.  But I also think it’s time for some of the most creative writers to start adding some real science back into science fiction.

The Giant Behemoth (1959) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Lately I’ve been adding in a spoiler alert to these reviews to spare people who don’t want the movie spoiled by my review of the plot.  I’ll skip it here because no one can care what the plot of this movie is.  Basically, this is a British copycat of the movie “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” which came out in 1953.  Unfortunately, the special effects (such as they are) are even less impressive than the earlier incarnation of the story.

Intrepid American scientist Steve Karnes is in Britain to warn his fellow scientists that all of the atomic bomb blasts have filled the ocean with radioactive plankton, fish and sea birds.  And that eventually this would lead to giant mutated prehistoric creatures being awakened and attacking coastal cities.  Well, he didn’t actually say that but I could read between the lines.

Sure enough a fisherman and his surprisingly pretty blonde daughter are returning from a fishing trip and while she returns to their home the old man lingers on the beach and is blasted by the eponymous giant behemoth.  Apparently, the creature not only is highly radioactive but he also possesses the ability to use his electric eel-like power as if he were a gigantic bug zapper.  Later on, the daughter and her not too smart boyfriend find the father.  He’s covered with radiation burns on his face and they arrive just in time for him to tell them that it was a “giant behemoth” before he expires.

And I say that the boyfriend is not too smart because near the dead fisherman he finds a blob of pulsating glowing, pulsating slime.  So naturally he puts his hand into it and gets his own set of radiation burns.  At this point Steve Karnes and his British sidekick Professor James Bickford show up and quickly figure out that a giant prehistoric sea creature has been turned into a radioactive death trap and they bring in the British Navy.

Unfortunately, the Navy proves incompetent and various naval vessels, merchant ships, helicopters and even a passenger ferry are destroyed by the beast (mostly off-camera).  But finally, when the beast climbs onto land in London, we get to see it.  It’s a sorry looking Claymation facsimile of a sauropod.  And the animation of it walking through the London streets is almost comically bad.  It chases after a lot of not too nimble Londoners for a long time.  It zaps a bunch of people with its death ray.  It knocks some bricks out of a wall onto some other Brits and finally picks up a guy in a car in its mouth and throws it to the ground.

After this goes on for way too long Karnes and Bickford decide that what radioactivity can create, radioactivity can destroy!  They will take a radium spearhead and use a torpedo to shoot it into the creature’s head.  Apparently, this will kill it.  So, Steve gets into a crappy little submarine and voila, he shoots the behemoth and it’s all over.

But just as our heroes are congratulating each other for a job well done we hear a newscast saying that dead fish are washing up on the east coast of the United States.  Oh no, here we go again!

You’ve got to be a devotee of old monster movies to want to see this clunker.  I know War Pig is in that category so if you’re out there, this one’s for you.

Jurassic World Dominion – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I brought my two oldest grandsons to see the new Jurassic Park movie, “Jurassic World Dominion.” Based on the previous outings we all expected the movie to be full of exciting, frenetic action and very deficient in plot. But we plunked down our ducats and endured the half hour of coming attractions.

Well, they threw everything including the kitchen sink into this potboiler. They brought back Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and Sam Neill to reprise their characters from the original Jurassic Park film. They had some ridiculous plot about a cloned girl who was produced by parthenogenesis (virgin birth) by the granddaughter of Richard Attenborough’s character John Hammond from the first movie. Then they added an evil corporation producing giant locusts to eat up the world’s food supply to corner the market on genetically modified crops.

Then there were intrigues and kidnappings. There was Chris Pratt lassoing dinosaurs in the snow of Montana and other equally absurd scenarios. Finally, all of the good characters, old and new, band together to defeat the evil corporation and as a capstone the same small dinosaurs that ate Wayne Knight’s character Dennis Nedry in the original Jurassic Park, eat the evil CEO in this movie. What could be better than that?

Well, the movie was a hot mess. But dinosaurs are chasing people and even eating a few so what else could I ask from a Jurassic Park sequel? Afterwards, over some burgers and fries we agreed that it was ridiculous but highly satisfactory for our needs on this family movie outing.

But if someone is looking for an intelligent summer movie this is not that movie. It’s strictly an exercise in summer blockbuster sequel abuse. Well at least they must be finished with Goldblum, Dern and Neill. That at least is something.

Nick Cole Talks About Becoming An Indie Author

Nick Cole is one half of the writing team that has produces the highly successful (and highly entertaining) military science fiction series “Galaxy’s Edge.”

Nick talks about starting out as an indie writer and his run in with the big publishers.  After his initial success as an indie, the New York publishers gave him a contract but as soon as something in his next story offended their woke sensibilities they gave him an ultimatum; take it out of the story or lose his contract.  He chose the latter and has never looked back since.

There was some very good information on holding onto an audience once the first book in a series appears.  Unfortunately, the strategy he recommends is writing several books before publishing them.  This way they can be released at one month increments to keep the audience stocked in sequels when they are most receptive to purchasing another book.  Considering my slow progress it’s pretty discouraging to think I’ll have to finish three books before I can get publish anything.  Ah well.

It’s about an hour long so it might be a little much for most people.  But if you’re a fledging author it might be worth your while.

 

 

 

Galaxy’s Edge – Dark Victory – A Science Fiction Book Review

I’ve got to hand it to Anspach and Cole.  The world building they are doing in the Galaxy’s Edge franchise doesn’t seem like it will ever slow down.  They’re at least fifteen books into this universe and I keep running into newer and weirder twists and turns in the history of their galaxy.  And they’re always throwing in new characters and cross-connecting old characters and advancing new plot lines.  These boys are on their game.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

In this latest installment Aeson Ford (/Captain Keel/Wraith/Tyrus Rechs (imposter)) is working undercover for his old Legionnaire friend Chhun.  He gets mixed up with an investigation into Nether Ops interference into the chaotic political situation that has existed since the Legion put an end to the House of Reason.  Working with the Nether Ops agent “Honey” he infiltrates several bases of the nefarious spy agency leading up to the capture of vital intel.  Meanwhile Ford is also in search of information on his own forgotten origins in the Kill Team Ice that stretches back to the Savage Wars by means of cryosleep.

Meanwhile we discover that his crewmate Leenah was not killed when the Indelible VI was attacked by bounty hunters in the last book.  We learn how her ship was all but destroyed just as she made the jump to light speed.  The jump saved her life but left her stranded in the middle of nowhere with almost no air and no way to get help.  Through her mechanical ingenuity she rigs a signal and waits with time running out.  Meanwhile Ford’s other crewmate Garret is Lenah working with Nilo’s Black Leaf mercenaries and because he hasn’t given up on Leenah’s life, he locates her signal and convinces Nilo to go on a rescue mission.

When they get to the beacon Leenah and the ship is gone and Nilo figures out that Leenah has been captured by Gomarii slavers and they go on a mission to save her and take down the Gomarii.  During the rescue Nilo and Garret discover that the Gomarii vessel is actually a Savage hulk that contains information in its memory banks crucial to the upcoming resumption of the Savage threat to the galaxy.

Aeson Ford fabricates a plot to capture a rogue Naval Commander who has been doing the Nether Ops dirty work.  During the action Honey betrays him with her former colleagues in Nether Ops and she is killed along with the rest of the agents that Ford defeats.  When he returns to the Legion base, he learns that his old comrade Masters is in dire straits.  Instead of returning to Garret and Nilo he heads off with the legionnaires to save Masters.  But at the end of the book, we find that Nilo also has business on that same dangerous planet.

Dark Victory winds two plots together and both are done well.  The rescue of Leenah from the salvers is the more dynamic and satisfying of the subplots but taking Ford out of the action allows the secondary characters like Leenah and Garret to get their moments in the sun.  Plus, it allows Nilo and Garret to advance the information on the Savage Wars back story which will tie in with other characters that don’t figure in this book but will return soon.  Let’s face it, once you’re into the series this deep all you want to know is whether it’s still a good read.  It is.