RogerBW's Blog

Into the Dark, J. A. Sutherland 21 October 2016

2014 military SF, first book of the Alexis Carew series. Barred by her sex from inheriting the family estates, Carew signs aboard a ship of the Royal Navy as a midshipman… in space.

This is the sort of book where the author proudly lays out how pounds, shillings and pence work… but hasn't noticed that "pence" is a plural. It's a clear descendant of Hornblower and Aubrey-Maturin (via David Drake's RCN series, which I really ought to re-read): while it's nominally science fiction, the science is blatantly set up to create a recognisable Napoleonic-era navy (complete not only with masts and rigging but with prize money, chainshot, flogging, and bumboats).

See, there's darkspace, always in italics so you know how nifty it is. You can pop into or out of it at Lagrange points (any Lagrange points), and travel there is non-linear but faster than in normal space… but electronics don't work unless they're shielded by a terribly expensive mineral (you know it's important, it's purple with white swirls). If you thought the Honor Harrington series was blatantly set up to allow ships to exchange broadsides in space, you'll have to hold your nose a bit here, because while the publishing category is science fiction, there's really no science involved: nobody in-universe really understands this stuff, and it's clear that the answer to any question of physics is "whatever makes it most Napoleonic".

Meanwhile there's Alexis herself, who takes to the Navy like the proverbial duck, in spite of being the Only Girl In The Fringe Fleet; everybody is nice and accepting and generous (with one or two exceptions quickly won over), her problems are minor and easily overcome, and she quickly starts to distinguish herself, in manners strikingly reminiscent of some of the incidents from Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. But she's Terribly Tortured and always feels she hasn't done well enough, so that's all right then.

Nobody here is much of a real person; Alexis mostly just gets things right, while everyone else is a stereotype (Kindly Captain, Nasty Fellow Middie, Repentant Bad Guy, Corrupt Purser). It's competently enough written, but reading this book feels like eating a whole box of doughnuts, and has about as much lasting value.

Followed by Mutineer, which is apparently set aboard HMS Hermione. Hmm.#Mutiny)

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  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 11:32am on 21 October 2016

    Ah, good. Another book I need not read....

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:42am on 21 October 2016

    Was there a shortage?

    This doesn't get the "In Brief, Avoid" tag; I didn't despise it. It didn't engender that much feeling in me.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:26pm on 21 October 2016

    Any lagrange point? So with enough mass and/or distance you can make your own entries into darkspace.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 02:46pm on 21 October 2016

    That did occur to me. One assumes there's some sort of mass ratio limit to the process, but the way the characters talk about it it's all just a fact of nature.

  5. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 07:22pm on 21 October 2016

    Without meaning to sound snippy, but that review would rank as "Do Not Go Near This" and I wonder whether you need to metaphorically switch the broad minded setting off and reboot yourself. ;-)

    Works for computers...

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 07:51pm on 21 October 2016

    Yes, but you know me - my baseline calibration is "I hate you. I hate everybody. Now open that damn door and let me OUT."

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