This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
One more review before the Christmas madness begins. Today we’re looking at Derelict: Halcyone Space, book 1 by L. J. Cohen.
I immediately had great sympathy for Ro. She’s a smart and ambitious character stuck in a difficult place (um, that place being, I want to say some sort of space base attached to an asteroid and / or some kind of broken-down older ship? To be honest I was a bit unclear about the structure of this world as it was introduced), and her dad is a nickel-plated fuckwit shading to legit evil.
Aside from the setting, which I enjoyed as a nicely-sci-fi-ey sort of ‘base’ thing (Daedalus) but didn’t really understand (needs more info dump, I know I’m the only reader who likes info dumps but I needed dump here), I was also a little lost initially with the non-Ro characters and their motivations. This was really just a contrast with Ro’s introduction, though, which was very clear and immediately engaging. The others were a bit more of a slow burn. Worth it in the end, though.
Jem and Barre are brothers, Barre a musician and mild junkie living under the threat of a rehab program that will essentially lobotomise him and end his extraordinary musical talent and potential.
Then there’s Micah, science dude who is trying to put the drug cartels out of business while his dad and Ro’s do dumbfuck deals with them. He’s making harmless strains of some kind of opium analogue in the Halcyone, a derelict ship that is part of the Daedalus space colony, hoping to use it to break the cartels’ backs. The drugs, I mean, not the Halcyone or Daedalus.
Then there’s also Nomi, another character who is sort of more of a command / intel insider and not quite part of the inner protagonist circle but who has an adorable crush on Ro and so acts as a sort of love interest as well as a point of view character back on (in?) Daedalus.
The colony is run by an AI (also named Daedalus I think) which is more or less benevolent and not particularly ‘I’, if you know what I mean.
All these interesting little tensions and threads begin to intertwine, Ro’s clashes with her father exploding into a full-blown conspiracy; Barre’s artsy fartsy lifestyle colliding with Micah’s pharmaceuticals; even the haunted past of the AI Daedalus and the AI on the Halcyone, and the war that took place and left a great big space-mess behind. All culminating in Ro taking the Halcyone for a little joyride, and Micah, Jem and Barre being dragged along.
That’s it, that’s basically the story. And that’s … fine?
It’s compact, self-contained, and – notwithstanding my own failure to really grasp the overall structure of the world Cohen is working with – pretty easy to follow. The characters and their motivations are clear and well done. I cared about them all. I was horrified for Barre’s fate and I wanted Micah to end those cartels. I wanted Ro to show her dad how fucking useless he was, and I wanted her to end up with Nomi because they were just adorabubble.
So, there were (a) good characters in (b) an okay-ly established setting doing (c) plenty of solid action for (d) solid reasons, and (e) it all ended more or less satisfactorily. It’s just…
Okay. There was a lot more to it than that, and of course this was just the opening story in a larger narrative. The war, the past, the conspiracies and the cartels and all of it, will no doubt be a large part of the narrative going forward and they couldn’t very well settle all of it here. There are things at play. The fight with Ro’s dad and the senator (or whatever, Micah’s dad) back at Daedalus, about the weapons, all that. Yeah. There’s more to it, and more in up-coming books. There just … I don’t know, there could have been a bit more of it in this one too.
Thing is, I feel like there has to be a balance between the tantalising hints of a bigger picture that make the reader follow from book one to the rest of the series. And those were certainly there. This narrative had decent stakes on a personal character level, and the stakes don’t always have to be of galaxy-shaking importance, but … while this was enough for me to realise there was certainly going to be more in later books, there wasn’t quite enough of it in this one to make me see this as the opening of a series rather than a self-contained story.
And that’s also probably intentional! It’s a good idea, for the first book in a series. The more self-contained, the better. But then also there’s the risk of it being so self-contained, there’s no driving need to follow into the larger narrative. For me, purely, I needed that info dump to get (b) a bit more solid, and that would have been a perfect way to bring the wider plot into it sooner, amped up (d) a bit, and turned (e) from satisfactory to a proper vindication and a “right, you’re next” to the wider antagonist community.
Long story short, it was a good space opera. As opening to a bigger story, it was a little underwhelming.
Also, I realise the seals and weapons were evidence, but I absolutely would have destroyed them and spaced them just as a fuck you. Micah’s dad fucked himself anyway, and Ro’s dad can go to Hell. Just saying, in terms of a style note? Always destroy the thing the bad guy wants. Always. No exceptions.
There was no sex here really. A bit of cute mooning and awkwardness, but no sex. There wasn’t really call for it. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five, and I think that gobbet came from the gore-o-meter. Either way it’s not a very sexy gobbet.
We’re treated to a bit of fighting and injury and some gnarly med treatment stuff, nothing particularly wild. Zero flesh-gobbets out of a possible five, but I think this was where that gobbet came from that got into the sex-o-meter so let’s round this up to one flesh-gobbet out of a possible five. Props for realistic portrayal of injury in this story, by the way!
Again this was a mild one, there doesn’t seem like much to report on (that wasn’t based on my own confusion about how Daedalus worked) although I am getting a slight ping off the AIs and their ‘personalities’. Barre’s relating to the Halcyone AI through music is cool. Don’t know if it’s WTF but it’s giving us an Electric Dreams out of a possible Electric Sheep. And that “Electric Dreams” isn’t a play on the latter book title, it’s a reference to the ’80s movie.
My Final Verdict
I liked it! It was more the characters and their motivations that got me this time. Sure, they could have been doing something a bit more compelling but they could also just have been living their lives and their dramas and I would have been satisfied with a one-off story. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.
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