Thursday, August 13, 2020

Review: Storm Between the Stars, by Karl Gallagher

Anyone who follows my reviews knows that I've been a fan of Karl Gallagher's books. He delivers character and plot, even at times when you don't know which he's delivering on. Torchship was a better Firefly than the actual product. His Lost War series is criminally underrated, even though I think it's even better than Torchship.

And now he's back to a slightly harder SciFi, with a bit of a twist to it.

Storm Between the Stars: Book 1 in the Fall of the Censor is his latest release. I was worried about spoiling the key threat in this book... but the series title has already given that away.

To begin with, Niko Landry is Captain of a family-owned and operated freighter. Like all shipping companies, he makes a lot of deals based off of what will sell better in X system over Y, and never leaving his cargo hold empty. 

When Niko and his crew find himself lost in space, he finds himself in the midst of a great business opportunity. After three thousand years of a human diaspora caused humans to flee Earth and being subsequently cut off from the home system, they find themselves to be the first ones to have found a way back.

Since the Landry family business is private, they don't have to report anything to any one. They're the first ones back to the home system, and therefore, the first ones to find what new resources and technology may have been developed in the last three thousand years.

But Earth and the associated systems are now ruled by something called "the Censor." And what seems to begin as a system of bureaucrats is slowly revealed to be a creepy, terrifying system of oppression. Each new revelation makes the reader feel new levels of dread every time. It goes from "aw Hell" to "aw f***" to "why aren't they running?"

Karl essentially unveils a system, piece by piece, that builds into 1984 / Farenheight 451 IN SPACE, and ends with an interstellar space chase that David Weber would have been happy to have written. It feels a little like the end of On Basilik Station, only our heroes are being chased, and they don't have real weapons. Their only weapons? Physics.

Karl does a good job of developing a world. Many of the ideas are sane Libertarian. I have to make that distinction because there are the libertarians I know, versus the ones I've seen in public. He has a smart and sane approach to extended families, marrying into a family business, barter to get around taxes, how to work around oppression, and a lot of cultural elements that would make some libertarians I know scream like a sunburnt vampire.

There is also a great bit of work on language. I haven't seen this much effort put in since John C Wright's Somewhither. It's not as extensive, but it works well for the story. 

And there are nice little touches here and there. Character names that are very ... Welsh. Details on spaceship cargo loading. Human zebras (long story). Bringing back the zealots.

The only problem with this entire novel? We could have spent five pages on the crew being a bit more impressed with "This is something no one on our side has seen for thousands of years." In the book, they were all business, no wonder. Five pages would've been enough. It's a minor quibble, but I have to find a flaw somewhere.

In short, it's great world building. And I definitely enjoyed it. At least a 4/5. Maybe 5/5. I definitely recommend it. There's sequel bait, but there's there isn't a cliffhanger. So this won't cause you to throw your book against a wall.

Buy it here.

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