(2015) Dave Bara, Del Rey, £8.99, pbk, 361pp, ISBN 978-0-091-95642-4
Starbound is the second book in the ‘Lightship’ series by new author Dave Bara. When I reviewed the first title, Impulse, for this site I said mildly condescending things about it being a weak Star Wars/Trek hybrid copy which tried hard but showed too much of its rawness and failed to produce anything original enough to make me want to read more.
And yet, here I am, on book two, and I have to say, I quite enjoyed it. It is still raw, though the writing seems tighter than last time, and there is not anything in it that has not been done before. But there are wormholes, and Dreadnaught fighters, and an Imperial Navy and a Deathstar… Actually, I don’t think there is a deathstar, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if one had turned up.
That all sounds like I think all those space opera tropes are a bad thing, but this is an easy, light SF action romp edging on YA so familiar things are comforting. Besides, it is exciting, because there are bad guys doing bad things and we have a hero who has to face down impossible odds to save the day.
The hero is Peter Cochrane (surely a non-too subtle nod to Star Trek’s warp drive inventor Zefram Cochran), Captain of the ‘Union’ lightship Starbound and heir to the Dukedom of Quantar, one of the major Union planets, which gives the story a Prince Harry in the Army dynamic. It’s hard to relate to that, though I did find Cochrane’s romantic entanglements amusing, and Bara effectively managed to ramp up tension at key points, for instance when Cochrane is captured and imprisoned in some sort of Rura Penthe compound (Star Trek, in case you didn’t get the reference. Kirk and Spock left to rot with bad-ass aliens on an icy prison planet).
Plot: Starbound investigates a deserted space station, discover a ‘First Empire’ artefact, gets attacked by the Imperial Navy, fights them off, heads into a civil war in Corinthia, which leads to…
This story’s still a guilty pleasure for me, though. There’s a certain engaging charm about the writing, and because I’m a sucker for good space opera I might even concede to liking it. But immediately after reading Starbound I read a couple of the novels in James S. Corey’s 'Expanse' series, and those books show in comparison that Bara has some way yet to go. Peter Cochrane’s not gritty enough as a character (making him a Princess Leah-style royal warrior is a mistake, I think), there is too much unconvincing technobabble and all those archaic and derivative references to Imperial this and First Empire that emphasise just how unoriginal this material is. Recommended only for a light read.
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