Most science fiction fans love a space pilot scoundrel. From Han Solo to Malcolm Reynolds, there’s just something about a captain of a ship always on the lookout for the next meal ticket that makes us want to root for him. These guys are ultra protective of their crew, always worried about keeping their ship running, and tend to walk a blurred line when it comes to the definition of employment. They are rogues who always seem to know when it’s time to do the right thing. Usually.
For those of you who prefer your heroes with a bit of tarnish, may I recommend the latest book by G. J. Koch, Alexander Outland: Space Pirate. Don’t let the title scare you off, either. Captain Alexander Napoleon Outland, Nap to friends and crew (well, those crew members who actually respect him), is captain of the Sixty-Nine. Yes, the first thing that popped into your head when you heard the name of his ship is likely the correct assumption. And that should tell you a little bit about Nap and his typical behavior. But before you develop a bad impression of the man (and you probably will), give Captain Outland a chance to convince you his tale is a worthy one to read. Nap and his crew would fit right in to the Firefly universe, so if you’re a fan of Serenity’s crew, you’ll likely find this mix of colorful characters enjoyable.
Like most tales of space merchants trying to make a living, the Sixty-Nine has a cast of characters that are colorful and well-developed. There’s the sexy and mysterious weapons/security officer, Slinky (she seems okay with the name, too), who has to endure way too much politically incorrect behavior and unwanted advances from her captain. Every ship also has the exceptionally skilled ship’s mechanic, and Randolph proves his worth many times over. The ship’s computer system goes by the name Audrey — she’s always got a cheerful voice, even when informing the captain that the ship has about fifteen seconds left before it explodes. Oh, and Randolph has a major crush on her as well as plans for making her more… three dimensional. The ship has a special passenger on board, too, who goes by the title Governor. He’s an ex-world-leader (literally) who got chased out of his last gig, but believe it or not, that’s nothing compared to a major secret that he shares with Nap.
It’s just the four of them plus Audrey, and they’re quite happy with the current situation — a bit of piracy here and there (but never taking too much cargo off the hands of hard-working interstellar merchants) with the occasional real-paying job of ferrying parts or materials from A to B. But that would make for a boring story, so right off the bat the crew finds themselves leaving a planet quickly (Nap’s to blame, of course) and being ambushed by a fleet of cloaked ships. Who are they? What do they want? There’s no time to ask as Nap gets his crew out of the frying pan and into the fire… a fire called Herion.
About half of the book takes place on the military planet of Herion. This is a system that immediately recognizes the skill of Nap as a pilot because so far, only one other ship has managed to run the blockade and make it to Herion without being destroyed or having its crew shanghaied. But Nap and crew really start wondering if they’re better off on Herion than in the hands of the mysterious fleet. Herion throws them a half dozen surprises — spies, assassination attempts, run-ins with the local organized crime syndicate, and a tour of Herion’s plumbing system are just a few of the issues that Nap and his crew have to deal with as they try to just get back to work.
And that’s about where I’ll leave you in terms of specifics. Without giving anything more away, I can tell you that the book has surprises left and right. There are dozens of small mysteries that start to pile up, making you wonder if Koch will be able to resolve all of them. But she does an excellent job of weaving all the minor subplots in with the major plot and pulling it off with a logical and believable (for scifi) conclusion that still left a bit of tarnish on Nap’s reputation and me wanting more.
Alexander Outland: Space Pirate wraps up well, but this opening book provides so much backstory for each of the crew members that it leaves me little doubt that Koch has plans for more books in the series. At least I hope so — I have so many questions about the Governor, and there are a few new crew members that Nap picks up during his adventure who have also opened up completely new story possibilities. Randolph and Audrey have a budding relationship (seriously, just read the book — don’t ask) and are off to a curious start. And, of course, Nap ends the story having made some new friends but also racked up some new enemies. Here’s hoping that the adventures of Nap and crew are just beginning.
Note: I’d like to thank Liz at Night Shade Books for providing a review copy of the book.