Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Into the Hinterlands" by David Drake and John Lambshead (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official David Drake Website

Order "Into the Hinterlands" HERE or HERE (drm free ebook)

Read the First 15 Chapters of Into the Hinterlands HERE

INTRODUCTION: David Drake is a very well known author of military science fiction and traditional fantasy in the Robert Jordan style and while I have read around 15 of his books, his drier style kept most of them from being the highly favorite novels that I expected based on the content.

Still, the retelling of the Jason and the Argonauts story in the sfnal context of his Hammer universe, The Voyage, his space steward hero and mildly controversial standalone Starliner and his subgenre defining planet with monsters Redliners are big favorites of mine.

John Lambshead came to my attention when he wrote Lucy's Blade, an Elizabethan fantasy for Baen some years ago. While the subject left me meh as there are a dime a dozen Elizabethan fantasies around, I kind of liked his style so Into the Hinterlands as a presumed combination of the second author's writing and the first author world building and plotting was a highly expected novel.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Into the Hinterlands is the start of a new series that could be described as "Young Washington in a space opera context". The social setup is pre-revolutionary America with the main powers Brasilia as England, Terra as France and the proto-human Riders who ride continuum crystal living beings as the Indians, while the colonies are, well you got it and the Hinterlands are, well, you also got it... There is even tea as a highly regulated and sought after commodity.

Getting to the specifics of the novel: the universe of the novel is a four dimensional membrane inside the continuum and the humans navigate it by "frames" aka glorified bikes/wagons though there are interesting details as to how this works and what limitations ensue - the hyperspace drag is determined at the subatomic level so what you can carry efficiently on frames is dependent on its molecular properties rather than on mass/volume, so for example metals are hard to carry but ceramics are easy.

The political setup is the Fourth Civilization that spread across the stars when the nature of the universe was understood after the fall of (our) Third Civilization due to resource scarcity and biowars. Humanity now has the expected - lords of land at the top at least nominally, aggressive traders and merchants, while indentured servants take place of slaves in the Brasilian society and convicts in the Terran one, with the usual corruption, inefficiencies, class distinctions and pettiness. In other words, the socio-economic world of the 18th century in a space opera context and I happen to agree with the strong believability of such in the timeline presented by the authors as there is nothing inevitable about democracy and "rights of men" even in a technological world.

The story starts with Allen Allenson, young and promising colonial gentry and in-law to a secondary branch of a powerful Brasilian family, branch that decided to make its fortune in the colonies and married into the rising local families. Allen is leading a survey expedition into the Hinterlands under the nominal leadership of his learned but impractical in-law Destry, while Hawthorn, his childhood friend and dashing ladies man, another gentry but a bit lower in the social standing, is his aide.

This part is awesome and hooked me on the story while it introduces both the universe and our heroes perfectly; later, visiting his dying elder brother Todd - of a gene wasting disease that no medical tech can cure- Allen is convinced by his sister-in-law the ambitious Lynsie Destry to get Todd's position as Inspector General of the colonial militia. After the usual corrupt patronage deals, Allen gets the position conditionally from the executive Governor, contingent of investigating reports of Terran penetrations into the Hinterlands and of renewing the treaty with some of the Riders tribes that have a representative at one of the few trading posts into the wild.

From here the big-picture story starts and there is generally a predictable tone to what happens based on the events of the colonial wars of the 1750-1760's, but I really enjoyed the story and the space opera milieu gives a great canvas to retell it. There is much more including romance, seductive but dangerous women, politics and of course battles, fights, treacherous allies and incompetent generals. Into the Hinterlands packs quite a lot despite not being that long at less than 400 pages.

Overall, Into the Hinterlands (A+) is a great series debut and a complete package with a great ending but of course I want more and I really hope it "has legs", so the story of our heroes and their universe continues. Highly recommended and a book that shows clearly why Baen has been the leading publisher in military sf for so many years by putting out compelling novels that combine an interesting new space based milieu with traditional stories inspired from history.

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