Monday, January 18, 2010

A Black Cat in the Coal Cellar at Midnight

Sarah A. Hoyt, Darkship Thieves (Baen Books; 2010; ISBN 978-1-4391-3317-0; cover by Allan Pollack).

The first book completed for the year is by a new-to-me (sort of) author, Sarah A. Hoyt.

Sort of, because I am embarrassed to admit that it is the first book I've read by her. And I've "known" her for a couple of years now. Between Baen's Bar and Facebook, I've exchanged messages dozens upon dozens of time.

My excuse? Sigh. So many books. So little time. So many ex-lovers to bury...

O.K., true confessions are past. On to the book!

Athena Hera Sinistra is the only child of one of Earth's rulers, one of the so-called Good Men (she knows him as Daddy Dearest). While on a visit to a space station (Circum Terra), she awakes to find a stranger in her bedroom. With her quick wits, a nightgown (and a handy boot with a deadly heel), she manages to escape her attacker...only to find that her father's ship appears to be under control by a mutinous crew and staff with her father knocked out and being readied for an operation.

She flees the ship only to collide with a powertree, an plant that grows in deep space and harvests the sunlight (which can then be used on Earth). While there, she meets one of the mysterious and legendary darkships, piloted by a somewhat strange-looking man named Christopher Bartalomeu Klaavil (or Kit).

Hilarity ensues as Thena is taken from her spoiled existence (more on that later) and thrust into Kit's society and then back to Earth where she in embroiled in a plot at the highest levels of Earth's society. Curtain falls...with potential for much to come.

The book was a quick read, no so much as it was lightweight, but because it kept my interest up. There are strong overtones of Robert A. Heinlein (which Hoyt acknowledges in the dedication, but also Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (you probably know him better as Cordwainer Smith).

Heinlein is all over this book, from "Daddy Dearest" to an apparently spoiled yet highly competent female character, to "Earthworms" to a highly individualistic society to a revolution. I detected hints of Cordwainer Smith in the cycle of history that Hoyt outlines, the mysterious ruling class (with the "Good Men" in place of The Instrumentality of Mankind), to the spaceships (or "darkships"), to the powertree and even to Kit himself.

Science fiction with elements of...O.K., mystery is obvious. But also romance. Ick! It was written by a girl! Romance!

Just kidding, Sarah. Put down that burner!

The mystery comes from things like Thena herself. Daughter of one of Earth's rulers, she has spent much of her youth in hospitals, clinics and various other institutions. She ran with a rough crowd. Now, many children of the rich and powerful have problems or run with less than savory characters, but it gets all nicely tied up in the overall mystery.

The romance comes from the relationship that develops between Thena and Kit. O.K., it is a mild romance. Not even PG-13. Certainly nothing that my daughter would have trouble with (some of the manga she reads is more explicit). Beyond one nightgown that barely survives the first couple of chapters, there are no ripped bodices or too many heaving breasts.

Two things generally mark a "good thing" when I read a book by a new author. Readers of this blog may recall my initial impression upon coming across Travis S. "Doc" Taylor or John Ringo: I read the books fast, and I wanted more soon. Both these things are true of this book as well. Back to the bookstore!

FTC Disclaimer: This book, despite having received a very lovely review (even if I do say so myself) was 100% purchased with cash on the barrelhead at the local big box bookstore.

1 comment:

Francis Turner said...

When you mentioned Cordwainer Smith it was obvious but I have to admit I didn't think of it until I saw your review.