It seems that, for the time being, Ola takes on the big books and authors, and my role is to explore… not the bottom of the barrel, certainly, but less distinguished parts of the genre literature. Cool ideas of less known authors, guilty pleasures for specific audiences, things like that 😉
So… lets continue with Royal Navy in space, this time – with Michael J. Martinez, and his “The Deadalus Incident”, volume one of the “Daedalus” series. And this time its not “Nelson” in space, like was in case with the Honor Harrington. It’s Horatio Nelson himself, and his friends, in space. Thanks to the power of alchemy, pseudo science of our world’s past that works in this alternative universe.
An alchemist on board allows a classic man-o-war not only to sail through the space, but to do so without its crew dropping dead. Science of this… there are explanations that satisfy XVIII-century protagonists, for modern readers – it’s cool enough no to discourage from reading the book 😉
So we have a man-o-war, called… you guessed it, “HMS Daedalus”, sailing the Solar System under Cpt. William Marrow, among his crew – our main protagonist, Lt. Thomas Weatherby. When HMS Daedalus takes aboard Ms Baker, a servant of deceased giant of English alchemy, Dr. McDonnell, they become part of an adventure that involves international intrigue, piracy, aliens and great evil that threatens entire humanity. And characters like Benjamin Franklin, Count de St. Germain and Cagliostro (in this universe – famous alchemists).
Martinez clearly read his O’Brian and his Forester. We have the usual tropes of sea novels done right and the contrast between XVIII-cent. technology and space travel… made me roll my eyes a few times, but generally made the book even more fun to read.
Cpt. Marrow is tough and experienced, Lt. Weatherby is naive, brave and idealistic, Ms Baker is a strong female character in a male-dominated territory, smart and as independent, as possible in the circumstances. At the end, the hero does not get the girl, because an adventure together is not automatically followed by a romantic relationship, a truth most movies and many books don’t get. Not that Weatherby doesn’t entertain the notion… As a reader, I wished they got together and later appreciated that Martinez didn’t go for the cliché ever-after happy end.
Not to go into details, but obvious inspirations, beside sea novels, is pulp (like Burroughs) and if you don’t like the sound of that – don’t bother. Otherwise – get it!
But look… what’s there on the cover? Not a nelsonian frigate, but something straight from Cape Canaveral. What we have here is not only an alternative history/space fantasy, it’s also very proper s/f. Roughly half the book takes place on Mars, in XXII century (possibly our future, nothing alternative about this part). Structurally we have chapters beginning with entries from alternative universe’s journal, followed by some space-frigate adventures and concluded with some s/f. At least for most of the book, but lets avoid spoilers.
S/F part is as restrained as the first part is crazy. There is a station on Mars, where a small contingent of US/EU Joint Space Command (cool idea! lets do that!) forces, under Lt. Shaila Jain, protect a commercial mining operation. We have unreasonable higher-ups issuing orders from far-away, greedy corporate types, disregarding safety of their employees, reasonable and reliable engineers and other clichés of the genre. It reminds me of classic s/f from the fifties and sixties… the ones that my generation used to find on our fathers’ bookshelves (s/f used to be predominantly male thing) and I’ve read quite a lot of that, but quickly moved on without regrets. I like the atmosphere… a bit like, say, 2001: A Space Oddysey, but the strongest point of “The Daedalus Incident” lies in its space fantasy half, no the s/f one.
Two parts seem a bit disconnected, for at least two thirds of the book. We slowly learn how they are connected and in finale everything comes together, but I’m not entirely convinced. I’d rather read more about frigates in space… That being said, “The Daedalus Incident” is well worth your time, and the second instalment, “The Enceladus Crisis”, is already waiting on my shelves. Don’t let its crazy premise drive you off, it’s well executed and fun.