This is a fun indie space opera currently at four books, with a fifth title due out next week. There were quite a lot of things I liked about it, and I felt the story could be seen as a mix of 1970s Larry Niven and mid-to-late Robert Heinlein. There are some similarities to Currie’s Odyssey One series, but it’s less milfic and more sociology. This is NOT a Hornblower-type swashbuckler, but rather a more traditional brand of space opera, heavily focused on technological manipulation and sociological understanding (it is a first contact story).
An interesting aspect of the technology in this series is the tactical combination of reaction drives and reactionless ones. I don’t think I’ve seen those two combined since Larry Niven’s Known Space books, e.g. Ringworld. Fans of that book may recall how the explorers’ ship was equipped with both reactionless thrusters, which operated on a principle of anti-gravity (fuel-free), and reaction thrusters, which were like rocket motors, which they used sparingly because of their fuel requirements. Always fun to see an old idea make a comeback.
Juchs’ storytelling is enjoyable and relatively free of emotional manipulation. I’ve always felt that there’s a fine line between dramatic tension and cheesy, manipulative drama queening. When an author crosses it they often lose me, as I read WAY too many books to sit still for a lot of that. It’s not as low-drama as, say, Nathan Lowell’s wonderful slice-of-life Golden Age of Sail books, but it’s down in that general territory.
What it reminds me more of is some of Heinlein’s later work. Many of his later stories featured characters who spent a lot of time discussing their personal relationships and establishing new ways to interact with one another. Sometimes that could be almost unbearably detailed, as in The Number of the Beast. But at other times it made for some interesting speculative fiction. Why DO we interact with one another the way that we do? Can that not, also, be the subject of change and development?
Juchs uses this to explore the subject of freedom versus subjugation, with examples that include artificial intelligence, gender, and alien cultures. This is a little surprising to find in a series that, at least on the surface, appears to be aimed squarely at the modern milfic, sad-puppies reader. That’s terrific to see — I love it when authors feel unbounded by genre or stereotype. And to accomplish that exploration without a lot of excessive hand-wringing and emotional manipulation — that’s a rare accomplishment. Well done!
Another fun aspect of the story is an exploration of the old question of natural resources versus the advancement of society. There’s an old axiom in Science Fiction that a sufficiently advanced, space-faring civilization would have little need to damage the ecology of a planet just to gain natural resources. More than sufficient material exists elsewhere in our own solar system (e.g. asteroids) to provide the key elements of any civilization. And due to the Earth’s deep gravity well, those resources are far less energy-expensive to mine elsewhere as well. So a future society is automatically a more ecologically-minded society, even if it is still dependent upon non-renewable natural resources.
But if a civilization that has unlimited control over gravity, this might change the equation. If gravty means nothing to your ships and tools, and you need natural resources, then the most efficient path to gaining them in a star system is to begin with the largest supply: A rocky planet. Uh oh!
On the whole, I felt this was an excellent series. I’ve read the first three books (The Silver Ships, Libre and Meridien), and look forward to reading Haraken and Sol when I can.