by Robert PlamondonNorton Creek Press, April 2009, 258 pages, ISBN 0981928447.
Suggested retail price, $9.95.
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When was the last time you enjoyed a science fiction book where teenagers put an alien ship back together? Robert Plamondon's new novel is the kind of old-school SF adventure you love, with competent, strong-willed characters, believable technology, fast-paced action, humor, mystery, murder, betrayal, and a touch of the supernatural, all set against the backdrop of the ruined Terran Empire.
One Survivor will remind you of Heinlein's early work, but with a depth of background more like Jack Vance. It pits fifteen-year-old Beverly di Mendoza against her parents' murderers, on a backward planet whose inhabitants owe her nothing. With the help of two other teen-agers and their battered space ship, Beverly survives the initial onslaughts and soon moves to the offensive.
After you read this book, you're likely to join the other fans in clamoring for the sequel.
You can buy One Survivor from online booksellers or order it from your local bookstore.
Set a thousand years from now, after the rise and fall of the Terran Imperium, the future isn't what it used to be. The Imperium shattered into so many fragments that the people on most worlds no longer have any idea what it was like, and cheerfully assume that they live in the best of times. They're wrong. The lack of a central human government, combined with the dissemination of low-tech starflight technologies, means that piracy and raiding are widespread around all but the most developed planets, destabilizing and sometimes destroying the societies on weaker planets. Lurking in the margins are all the forces unleashed by the Imperium in its last days when, in its desperation, it systematically worked its way down the list of Things Best Left Undisturbed, stirring up every single one of them in a mad search for a way to destroy its enemies.
Even the wealthiest planets have only a fraction of their former populations. Terra, the most populous, barely has a billion inhabitants. Even the space ships have shrunk. The 100,000 ton Relentless, the legendary Imperial dreadnaught, is now considered to be a myth by most people, and trade between minor planets is carried out in tiny ships of 200-400 tons, because larger ships require more spaceport infrastructure than most planets can muster.
The technology used by these ships would not be entirely alien to a twenty-first-century observer. The use of hydrogen fusion in a magnetic pinch bottle to provide power and thrust, with liquid hydrogen as both fuel and reaction mass for the drives, would be a familiar (if currently unrealized) technology, as are the laser cannon and SCRAM-jet surface-to-orbit thrusters. Only the hyperdrive has no twenty-first-century parallel.
But there have been signs of improvement in recent decades. Some worlds have regained a measure of their former economic and military power, and have formed into a loose coalition: the Eight Worlds. Terra, Goa, San Vincento, Great Belt, New Carina, Redstar, Outback, and the Pleiades Federation have a common currency (the bezant) and are generally (but not always) focused on expanding outwards rather than at the expense of the other members. So far, the Eight Worlds have proven vastly superior to any external threat, and many see them as the nucleus of a second Imperium.
Outside the Eight Worlds are innumerable other worlds, many inhabited by humans, other by aliens. Some, like the Eight Worlds, are organized into loose confederations: The Centaurus Federation, the Duchy of Persol, Valhalla, Elhild Province. Others consist of a single planet or less -- many planets are divided into independent countries.
The Duchy of Persol is representative of these less-affluent societies. Too poor to afford a standing, professional navy, they are nevertheless dependent on space flight for their security, to challenge invading ships and to retaliate against the invaders' homeworlds. Space ships consume a large portion of their capital and skilled labor, and control of the society inevitably falls into the hands of the spacefaring classes. In the poorer worlds, this takes the form of a decentralized spacefaring aristocracy, whose ships are used for trading and raising as circumstances warrant. Such an aristocracy cannot be controlled to any great extent by the planetary government, let alone by the nominal government of the confederation, unless faced by extreme peril.
This happened eighty years before our story begins, when the Terrans decided to annex Mordel, the wealthiest planet in the Duchy of Persol. Outraged, every shipowner in Persol readied his ships, including ones that had been in mothballs for years, and challenged the Terrans with their vast armada. This was the Battle of Mordel. The Persol fleet was utterly destroyed.
Wealthier planets maintained their navies through the Troubles, and these became the powers in the Eight Worlds. For example, San Vincento managed to maintain its navy in spite of everything, through the skill and heroism of Fey Aaron. This accomplishment was marred when Aaron was murdered by his wife on their wedding night, so she could join George Skelley in his bid to become Emperor (a title which the San Vincentans regarded as still meaningful, then and now). Betrayal has been the curse of San Vincento ever since.
Adjoining the Duchy of Persol is Valhalla, a kingdom with many worlds, but without a king. Recently, an adventurer named Oman Laverak has become active there. Starting with a single ship, the Mad Dog, he has gained control of several planets. Backed alternately by Great Belt and New Carina, no one is quite sure if he plans to sell out to one of the Eight Worlds, create a Ninth World, or set himself up in opposition. Adventurers from many worlds have flocked to his banner, leaving the area even less stable than it was before. Laverak's success is drawing the attention of more distant powers such as San Vincento.
As our story begins, Baron Richard di Mendoza, a San Vincentan nobleman and former naval officer, is travelling to Valhalla with his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Beverly, where he will take up the long-vacant post of San Vincentan ambassador to Valhalla.
Origin of the Eight Worlds
I'm deeply indebted to Paul Gazis for developing the Eight Worlds. I'll see if I can get him to write something about its origins for this page. I never would have gotten started if I hadn't had a ready-made history and technology to work with. That stuff is hard!
Yes. It's about 20% written. Its working title is Tainted Gold. It's set four years later and features many of the characters from the first book.
You can read the Tainted Gold sample chapters here. Warning! Contains spoilers. Read One Survivor first.
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