Fiction Reviews

Cold Welcome

(2017) Elizabeth Moon, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 435pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50628-9


This is the latest in the Ky Vatta series of books by prolific American author Elizabeth Moon. Or more accurately, it’s the first in the ‘Vatta’s Peace’ series, as opposed to the hugely successful ‘Vatta’s War’ collection. There’s been a gap – although I read the ‘war’ books when they came out I was grateful for the backstory hints in Cold Welcome – but old readers should find it easy enough to slot back in and new readers won’t find the history of this series too overwhelming.

These books are set in an unspecified far future when no-one can quite remember when humanity left Earth behind. In the first series, a cadet in the (space) Navy of Slotter’s Key (a planet ruled by rival families) is kicked out and left to fend for herself with privateers, pirates, mercenaries and other governments. She does so with some success, fights various wars and ends up a field Admiral with the multi-agency Space Defence Force, all at the tender age of 29. It helps that Ky’s family is one of the driving forces of Slotter’s Key and their military, of course, but young Ky shows an intuitive grasp of military strategy, a firm understanding of how to gain the loyalty of virtually everyone she meets and a talent for upwardly mobile romance (though, of course, her motives are sincere) with the dashing mega-rich young CEO Rafe Dunbarger, which comes with the added bonus of a state of the art, known to no-one direct ansible link drilled into each of their skulls. This is an especially useful feature given the (low) tech level in this story timeframe and comes in conveniently handy in the new novel…

Elizabeth Moon’s publicity shouts make great play of the fact that she’s ex-military, presumably to add authenticity to her military-SF credentials. And this is certainly military SF, though I’d argue it’s military-lite. She certainly knows her NCOs from her Commanders, and what the proper form of address is for each (and if you read this book, you’ll know too), but it’s not the kind of book that pitches a gritty edge, so don’t expect blood and gore; this is more about familiar adventures with familiar people and it’s all pretty safe – the tension feels pretty half-hearted and not particularly convincing.

Cold Welcome starts promisingly and I am not giving too much away (since it’s telegraphed by the cover photo) by saying that Ky Vatta’s Slotter Key bound shuttle gets sabotaged and plunges to certain death into the icy seas just off a terraform-failed continent. Ah but this is Ky Vatta, and to her certain death means a battle for survival. Without comms links, with diminishing food and water supplies and trapped at sea in blizzards and storms surrounded by dangerous sea creatures Ky has to get the small band of survivors to land. Since they are not, technically, in her chain of command and there are likely traitors aboard that’s not entirely straightforward.

One thing I like about this book is that it stays (mostly) on the planet. Previous Vatta books have been space based and the series arguably needed to move away from space battle and military manoeuvres. This is a different kind of challenge for Ky, and it’s interesting to see how she gets out of her latest scrape. These stories are hardly ground-breaking, but are fun to read. Recommended as easy space-opera.

Mark Bilsborough

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