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28 December 2009 Blog Home : December 2009 : Permalink

Dark Ship Thieves - By Sarah A Hoyt

Darkship Thieves Dark Ship Thieves is a fascinating story driven along by a wonderful and at times highly irritating heroine. In many ways this is a lighthearted "romp through the spaceways" but it isn't all surface gloss. There is, in fact, a solid skeleton underneath and plenty of meat on the bones but the two combine to produce a highly attractive exterior, just the way that similar combinations make for pretty young ladies that cause even staid old men to drool like teenagers.

This metaphor is not quite as strained as it might be because the aforementioned wonderful but irritating heroine is clearly babelicious with s remarkable propensity for losing her clothes. Indeed the book starts off with her fleeing nefarious pursuers clad only in a thigh length silk nightie and to the delight of heterosexual teenage boys  everywhere this then gets ripped in about chapter 4.

But, just as our heroine is more than just a pretty face, this book is more than a fantasy for adolescent males. The book is set a few hundred years in the future where humanity has made it into the solar system, but no further. In between that time and this though humanity, and planet earth, have suffered quite a bit of pain and torment. However at this time the planet is pretty peaceful and run by a number of despots - the "Good Men" -  with abundant energy available via the genetically engineered powertrees which orbit the earth and turn sunlight into highly energetic fruit called powerpods. These powerpods are then harvested and brought to earth to be used to power civilization. Genetic engineering is one of the themes of this book: not so much the technical details but the ethics and the likely consequences of not thinking things through.

But genetic engineering is not the only serious theme to the book, there is also considerable thought given to a libertarian society, including the problems of one as well as the benefits, and somewhere in the backstory some thoughts on how creative sorts might avoid the high-tax statism that seems to be becoming the current global norm. These details are deftly woven into the story without infodumps or other clunkiness. The fact that there is this econopolitical detail means that the reader (well this one anyway) is willing to forgive the author for a certain amount of hand-waving regarding the various technologies in use. There's nothing wrong with the science particularly but the author uses the book to discuss the potential consequences of, say, genetically engineering humans rather than discussing how the GE takes place. A cynic might suggest that this is because the author isn't terribly technical - and might well be right - but if so then she is far from alone in that failing and it is not something that is critical to the book.

The key here is that Sarah Hoyt has created wonderful characters and a plausible plot with interesting twists and turns that engage the reader. Although the heroine, Athena Hera Sinistra, is somewhat reminiscent of a Heinlein heroine (e.g. Friday Baldwin), it seems to me that the closest fictional hero to Athena is Lois M Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan. Both characters have the same "full speed is the only speed" mentality and both clearly have the sort of magnetic personality that attracts followers. In fact there are a number of similarities including the fact that both were born and inhabit the very top echelons of their societies. One key difference is that Athena is not, however, handicapped by physical limitations the way Miles is.

Athena is not the only interesting character in the book. Her rescuer from her initial scantily dressed flight is rather less charismatic and slightly more law-abiding but just as interesting and the romantic tension between the two is quite gripping - especially since both seem determined to deny even to themselves that they would be even slightly interested in the other. I don't think it is too spoilerific to say that the two do finally admit their passion for each other and that this doesn't necessarily help matters. One of the weaknesses of previous Hoyt works is that villains and minor characters have tended to be rather cardboardy, with limited insights into their motivations. In this book there is more attention paid to both and that helps because their motivations and goals enrich the fabric of the tale and turn it into something more than a simple adventure story.

I am also pleased to say that this tale is complete in itself, it has a satisfying ending with most loose ends tied up so one is not left shouting "And then what?" when reaching the final page. However, just as with Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan books, you do want to see a sequel and discover what happens next to our intrepid heroine and her friends.

PS A full disclosure disclaimer: I am tuckerized in this book. I'm sure I would have liked the book anyway but it is possible this swayed me a bit.