(2013) Gary Gibson, Tor, £18.99 / Can$32.99, hrdbk, 377pp, ISBN 978-0-230-74890-3
Gary Gibson has now firmly established himself as a writer of space opera adventures with a slightly hard SF edge. Marauder begins with a small, one-and-a-half page info-dump that tells us that several centuries in the future humanity is now among the stars and met other species, but that this is courtesy of a faster-than-light (FTL) interstellar drive from long-vanished alien technology. Furthermore, this FTL technology is also a weapon as it can make stars go nova, and indeed there have been nova wars among alien civilisations in the past. Also included is a short briefing as to the way human colonies have fractured into groupings and alliances. (Now Gibson readers will find this familiar but, newcomers fear not, this book is billed as a 'stand-alone' novel. More of this later but be assured that it can be read as a stand-alone novel much as Iain Banks 'Culture', or Alastair Reynolds' 'Revelation Space' novels are stand-alone albeit they are all set in the same universe.)
Info-dump out of the way, commencing the novel proper we find Megan Jacinth who has just landed on a planet to rescue a former crew member Bash….
Meanwhile, elsewhere Gabrielle is the Speaker Elect. Like Megan she is a machine head, which basically means that she has implants that enable her to communicate directly with some electrical systems and artificial intelligences; machine heads make for ideal space pilots. Gabrielle has one function in life, when her time comes she is to enter a long-derelict, alien spaceship that landed on her world many years before, and then extract information from its still-active systems that the authorities can then use to trade with an Accord of other human worlds in return for military support…
Jumping back many years earlier, we find that Megan and Bash were space pilots of an FTL interstellar cruiser and that they had agreed to take part in a dark operation to travel to investigate a mysterious alien, and ancient, spaceship apparently hiding out in a distant system. This craft is known as the Marauder. Its history goes back a long way and it is (still) involved in an ancient struggle between two powerful super-civilizations that used to hold sway over the Galaxy long ago…
The first third of the novel expands on these three strands which sets up matters for the more linearly told second half of the book where the real adventure takes off for a great, action-packed ride. Gibson certainly pushes many of the right SFnal space-operatic buttons and those into this aspect of the genre will be easily swept along for a right treat. As such Marauder is recommended and those that enjoyed the authors 'Shoal' trilogy will hugely enjoy this spin-off adventure that actually further develops that trilogy's timeline. (Which we get in an appendix at the book's end.) Indeed, we meet a former protagonist plus also, by the novel's end, get a new character that could well be set to play a part in possible future adventures. Gibson's fans will be delighted with Marauder as will newcomers who have a penchant for the likes of Asher, Brown, and McDevitt, not to mention more developed writers such as the previously mentioned Banks and Reynolds.
Problems? Well nothing really big. However, unless I missed something crucial, Gibson does have a Lionel Fanthorpe (in his previous incarnation as a sci-fi writer in the 1950s and '60s) moment towards the book's end when we are told that a space ship now in orbit was in zero-g mode with our protagonists weightless. Then, turn the page to a new chapter, and there's gravity in the command centre. Ooops. (Gibson does need to expand his team of manuscript readers as I think I have mentioned before but should not feel too embarrassed. Heck, even Arthur Clarke in one of his landmark novels had a Fanthorpe moment: it happens to the best of us.) More of a problem for me is the way the author and publisher present the book as a stand-alone novel. This is kind of true, but also it is not. Let is be clear. Gibson has two universes in which he writes gung-ho space operas. One has portals (or 'stargates' in sci-fi parlance) to get between the stars, and the other has the FTL nova drives. This novel should not be billed as a stand-alone novel per se but a 'stand-alone' Nova War novel. Marketing is so important, especially if newcomers are not to be confused, that I do hope that Gibson and the good folks at Tor can sort this out. But, as I said, these are no big problems and they can be easily addressed with a very minor tweaking of subsequent editions and marketing copy.
Bottom line. This is a great high-adventure, action-packed escapade among the stars. I do look forward to the next one.
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