Thursday, April 9, 2015

Odyssey One: Into the Black - Evan Currie

I was inspired to go back and try the first of Evan Currie's works after reading an ARC of his latest, King of Thieves

Odyssey One is a space opera. It’s also, fortunately, quite a good one. The focus is centred on the crew of the Odyssey, Earths first faster-than-light capable spacecraft. The main focus is on the ship’s captain, who is something of a reluctant warrior. There are, however, other points of view scattered through the crew and used when required – in particular, the view tends to split and follow ground troops when required.

It turns out that this degree of viewpoint shift is required quite a bit, because, well, there’s a lot of action in this text. It’s impressively written, too. There’s quite an array of space battles, and they’re well drawn, with some current-navy analogies; the Odyssey acts as a large battleship/carrier, with a wing of fighter craft, allowing the reader to get both a macro and micro view on each space conflict. The battles all take account of basic physics, so there’s not a lot of Star Wars style chaos in combat – instead, the tension ratchets up on the Odyssey as it manoeuvres to avoid being in a position where it might get hit, whilst seeking to anticipate its opponent’s moves before taking its own shots. I compared the combat in Currie’s recent King of Thieves: Star Rogue to submarine warfare, and I think that comparison is apropos here as well. The Odyssey has a bigger stick, but it still feels like a tin can locked in a hostile environment, with a crew under terrific pressure both within and without.

The fighter and ground combat sequences offer some relief from this tension, focused on smaller battlefields, more immediate answers. The fighter combat is well written, if a bit familiar –but it’s fast paced, and the combat descriptions are good enough to keep you turning pages. The ground combat has a similar effect, though it’s a bit more awkward, and seems to derive quite a lot from texts that came before in the oeuvre (one character actually lampshades this directly in the text). It’s well done though, and a good read, so it’s difficult to condemn it; it may not be terribly original, but it was certainly hard to stop reading.

Whilst the combat is a rip-roaring read, and the discussion of the sciences and technology within the text is obviously well researched, and quite compelling, it all has to work within a framing narrative. Fortunately, the one provided is decent enough. I won’t get into it for fear of spoilers, but it does provide the Odyssey’s captain with compelling reasons to get involved in all sorts of exciting battle scenes.

Where the book does suffer somewhat is in the characters. We get a bit of a view onto the Captain-as-protagonist, and each of the viewpoint characters is made a little deeper by being used as a point-of-view, but the focus isn’t really on the people here; it’s on the space battles, the ground warfare, and the odd smidge of diplomacy (though the latter is tellingly done largely offscreen). There’s enough broad character strokes provided that the reader can empathise with the captain and crew of the Odyssey, but largely left ignorant of what drives them – and in the few cases where that information is given up, it’s largely standard duty-bound heroics. Still, the cast aren’t entirely ciphers, and the result is quite readable, so I shan’t complain too strongly – it may be that the characters are given a bit more heft in later instalments.

Overall, this is highly readable military sci-fi. There’s pretty much unrelenting action throughout, and the environment is well realised, well explicated, and interesting. The narrative is compelling, and the prose done well enough to keep the reader enthralled. If you’re looking for something to read with a lot of spaceships, powered armour, aliens and explosions, with a plausible scientific wrapping and a decent story, then this is the book for you.

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