RogerBW's Blog

Starship's Mage Omnibus, Glynn Stewart 08 August 2021

2014 SF, first in a series. Interstellar travel is possible only because of Jump Mages, the magicians who were the byproduct of the Eugenics Wars centuries ago. Damien Montgomery has the talent, and has just finished training, but without the backing of a powerful family, he doesn't have much chance of getting a ship posting soon. Unless he meets a truly desperate captain…

(Which you'd think wouldn't happen, really. I mean, mages who can do the jump thing are a limited resource that constrains a large part of the economy; there ought to be enough berths that they'd never go long without employment. Still.)

This is space opera with a brain. I mean, there's a mention early on of "the pirate, just less than two million kilometers distant — and the missile salvo it had fired several minutes ago, accelerating towards them at over two thousand gravities" and that's a thing you can check and see that that comes out to about seven and a half minutes' flight time and yes, thank you, it works. OK, not giving the numbers would also have worked, but if you're going to go for the technothrillery spurious detail it's nice to have, and Stewart has gone to the trouple of getting them right.

Slightly oddly, what I got out of this was also praise for government; Montgomery has a particular knack of working magical power flows and makes some changes to the ship's jump grid, sorry, runic network as an emergency measure; this turns out to be a really major crime, and the captain stands by his crew, so they gradually move further and further out of law-abiding space, to a mage-refusenik world (there's a minimum amount of basic law that every world has to obey, but they can choose to keep mages off their surface), to a libertarian world, ultimately to a pirate haven, pursued both by the criminals who'd like the secret of those changes and a senior troubleshooter for the Mage-King of Mars… who's one of the grown-ups here and mostly wants Montgomery inside the tent facing out. Pity some local officials aren't as enlightened.

OK, you had me at "Mage-King of Mars".

But all of these places have people, good and bad and mostly just wanting to get on with their lives, and the only thing that is consistently able to suppress the predators (since there's little communication faster than ships outside the first-settled worlds) is the central government and its navy. The further you get from places the navy goes to, the more trouble you're in.

And while this is volume one of a series, the rest of the series clearly isn't going to be spent in the same place as this one. Which is another welcome rarity.

There are plenty of problems in the writing; the book could really have used an editing pass, with rather too many words repeated in paragraphs and occasional complete errors of vocabulary. The language plods rather than ever singing. Characterisation tends to be superficial, and the bildungsroman plot skeleton is pretty obvious. On another level, while people's sexes are quite evenly distributed and mostly not correlated with their jobs, the vast majority of the times someone's skin colour is mentioned it's "dark" or "near-black" or "black". Which is one of those errors, trying to be diverse but failing to realise that your default skin tone assumption is set to pinkish-grey, that I thought people knew about by 2014; if Stewart hadn't mentioned people's skins at all, it would have been less glaring.

But all in all I really enjoyed this. It's not going to be the next SF work that everyone raves about and analyses to death, and it's not trying to be; but it's both fun and thoughtful, and definitely worth a look.

(The odd title is because this is a quick fixup of several shorter works, and this shows every so often as a key bit of exposition is repeated. Again, an editorial pass would have fixed that.)

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

Series: Starship's Mage | Next in series: Hand of Mars

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Search
Archive
Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1