RogerBW's Blog

Mutiny at Vesta, R. E. Stearns 14 September 2021

2018 SF, second of its series. Adda the hacker and Iridian the engineer travel with the infamous pirate Captain Sloane to his base on Vesta… which has been grabbed out from under him while he was away.

The last book was a mixed bag, a combination of elements I really liked and ones that didn't work for me at all. This one is too, but for me it came together much less well.

There was always the dissonance in my mind between the lightheartedness of "let's be space pirates, it's the only way to pay off our student loans" and the practicality of "hang on, some of the stuff space pirates do makes people's lives miserable, even if we don't actually kill them", and the latter didn't get much attention. Here that's diverted because the pirate crew is forced to work as a megacorporation's special operations arm, so obviously those jobs are bad, and later they're working against megacorporations so again that's Just Fine and never mind the people working for the corp (who, as it's pointed out at some length, may well not have had a choice in the matter).

So there's that. And while I know that Space Is An Ocean (see tvtropes), Stearns doesn't seem to distinguish reliably between acceleration and speed (it's hard to move around inside ships when they're moving "fast"), ships can readily catch up with and intercept each other, and capability seems to be mostly a matter of fuel cost; when space action scenes are happening, ships make "banked turns" to manoeuvre round each other…

"Missile away," said Adda in her dull, preoccupied voice, confirming that she and the Casey were under a million klicks from the Apparition, receiving the Apparition's feed with almost no delay.

A million km would be about three seconds of lightspeed lag each way, which one feels is a bit much for "almost no delay".

"EMP is fucking terrible for ships," Iridian said. "All of the electronics are vulnerable if they're not shielded."

What the Windows do you think the electromagnetic environment in space is like, R. E.? (Not that you can have EMP as such without an atmosphere to carry it.) I mean, sure, it's all just background for the story, but we're constantly being reminded that this is a harsh environment with rules that you have to respect… but the rules change with what the plot needs.

And we have the problem that people's nifty combat armour suits can be automatically hacked in real-time: hit someone with the right sort of bullet, and it can load a virus into their suit OS to flush the entire painkiller supply into the wearer and knock them out or kill them. I can't help feeling that any military force faced with this sort of opposition would consider designing a suit so that the OS couldn't physically do that!

But we still get conversations with the newly-independent AIs, which I love, even if they're increasingly being painted as the secondary villains of the piece (and many characters are much cooler about hearing that there are independent spaceships with no known moral code or loyalty hanging about their habitat than I would be). That's why I carried on with the book even after I got to that bit about EMP in space.

But by the end, and in particular at the end which is a blatant setup for What Will Come Next, I found myself distinctly unenthused to read volume three. Oh well.

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Previous in series: Barbary Station | Series: Shieldrunner Pirates | Next in series: Gravity of a Distant Sun

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