I’m always on the lookout for a new science fiction book that will throws me a curve. Don’t get me wrong… I do love my steampunk and Sherlock Holmes and space opera, but sometimes you just want a good surprise. Does that describe you? If so, I’ve just finished The Daedalus Incident that, on a five star scale, gets six. (I may bump that up to a seven given that I’ve just learned there’s a sequel in the works.)
I’m going to offer up some details from the book that border on the minor spoiler side, so stop now if you’re willing to take a risk with just the back cover teaser (or my recommendation). The author is Michael J. Martinez, and the book’s been out for about a month now so you should be able to find it at your local bookstore if you prefer a print copy.
Okay, so in a nutshell The Daedalus Incident is a mashup of sorts. There’s the hard sci-fi story set in the year 2132 on Mars that follows Lt. Shaila Jain of the Royal Navy and now one of the senior officers in the US/EU Joint Space Command. JSC maintains a base and provides science and support roles to the Billiton corporation and its mining operations. When the story begins, Jain is on a routine survey mission of an underground cavern that is interrupted by a strong tremor (Mars-quake?) that almost kills one of her team. Mars doesn’t have active tectonic plates, and the JSC is at a complete loss as to the cause of the quake. That’s the basis of one-half of the book. Yes, one-half.
The other half follows one Lt. Thomas Weatherby of His Majesty’s Royal Navy in the year 1779. But not the British Navy or the year 1779 that you know. Lt. Weatherby is an officer on Daedalus, a frigate that sails both the oceans of Earth and between the planets of the known solar system. This frigate is powered by lodestones that provide gravity to the crew as well as a breathable cloud that surrounds the ship when it’s traveling in the ether between planets by riding the Sun’s light rays like ocean currents. On each frigate is an alchemist, an expert who is in charge of the lodestones, medical needs, and special weapon upgrades using alchemical compounds that are protected secrets between the various governments on Earth.
Back on Mars, the quakes are continuing. Jain is being pressured by the Billiton executive in charge of keeping the mining quotas filled to re-open the quarantined area. Time is money, and the miners are getting aggressive with the JSC staff. During a visit to the cavern, Jain and her team observe some strange phenomena that cannot be explained.
Meanwhile, Daedalus has an encounter with a rebel Ganymede ship; it sustains damage, and they lose their alchemist. Making port at a base near Mercury, they find a replacement alchemist. Intending to find and finish the fight, the crew instead finds itself on a different mission involving a rogue alchemist who has murdered a Mercury researcher and stolen a rare alchemical element that poses an unknown danger to the entire solar system.
If you’re still reading, then I’ve given you the basis of the first 1/3 of the book. I’m hesitant to say more — just know that The Daedalus Incident has so many things going for it: ship to ship battles, swordplay, pirates, aliens, and even a solid whodunit. Coming in at almost 400 pages, it is one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had all year. The conclusion was a whirlwind, and thankfully I won’t have to wait too long (April 2014) for the follow-up, The Enceladus Crisis.