(2015) Dave Bara, Del Rey, £8.99, pbk, 373pp ISBN 978-0-091956-41-7
Impulse is the first novel from US American Dave Bara, and the first in his ‘Lightship Chronicles’. I had double reasons to be apprehensive. Debut novels can be notoriously hit or miss, and books in a series can leave unsatisfying plot threads dangling and major story arcs unresolved.
So, hit or miss? Well it is clear that Bara has some work to do. Impulse is basically Star Trek re-imagined and set in a galaxy far, far away. In other words, it is the love child of Stars Wars and Trek, or a cross breed mongrel if you are feeling less charitable (Star Crossed? Much better title). I am probably not the only reader who rolled his eyes when the ‘imperial marines’ turned up. At least they weren't stormtroopers.,/P>
However, it is not actually set 'in a galaxy far, far away'. It is in our galaxy, though far in the future when Empires and Federations have come and gone and all that’s left are the Quantars and the Corinthians in Union looking for new recruits. Somewhere off-camera are a Corporate Empire, some unseen bad guys called the Sri (who may or may not be aliens) and The First Empire, long gone but seeding ‘relics’ in the present to trigger random plot twists. All this is no doubt meant as set-up for future books in the series, and to Bara’s credit, the world building here seems consistent and credible if a little lacking in depth at the moment.
The story follows Peter Cochrane, a junior officer in the Quantar (space) Navy, who is seconded to a Corinthian run ship, the Impulse, to keep an eye on Captain Zandar, who is on a mission to the Levant system (potential new allies) to check out ‘hyperdimensional anomalies’ which threaten mayhem. Peter is also the Admiral’s son and second in line to the throne of the soon to be restored Quantar royal family, so he’s effectively Luke Skywalker with James Kirk’s career. So expect encounters with women (lots), irrational, impetuous behaviour, insubordination, charismatic assurance and a sense of destiny.
Oh and there are ‘Earth Historians’ who keep secrets and hang around like the secret police. I am not entirely sure what their mission is, but their presence adds unpredictability and intrigue.
This is a very plot-driven book and it is difficult to say much more about its contents without spoilers but it will not come as much surprise that when the Impulse gets to Levant all hell breaks loose and new (and unanticipated) bad guys and threats emerge. Peter Cochrane must save the day…
The book revolves round the dynamic between Peter and his ostensible boss, Commander Dobrina Kierkopf, world fencing champion and will-they-won’t-they love interest who is, thankfully, more Princess Leia than any of the underdeveloped and stereotypical female characters out of original Star Trek. Their interplay is entertaining if not entirely credible but all the characters in this book need more depth to be fully convincing. Fortunately, in a series like this, there is plenty of time for that, and, given that this is a first novel and therefore should be cut some slack, I am expecting future instalments to fill in some of the gaps.
This is an enjoyable book, notwithstanding my reservations about originality and lack of character depth. It has got an Elizabeth Moon type feel to the writing, which is straightforward and crisp, and enough has been established here to effectively launch the rest of the book. That said, to my mind there were too many plot threads left dangling here, and the story in no way fully resolves itself at the end. I am almost temped to read the next book in the series when it comes out to see whether Bara does something interesting with his ideas and characters, but, frankly, there's better stuff out there. Recommended, though, if you like the idea of Imperial Marines.
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