Genre: Science fiction
This is sci fi boldly going. By the 24thcentury humankind has been busy warring and colonising: business as usual. The result is a lot of almost casual zipping between the stars in impressive starships, over a 1000 colonised planets, a huge amount of space debris, and the discovery of two other sentient species besides humans. All the characters have overlapping first names for reasons which remained obscure to me, eg Henryan.
Robert J Szmidt is a really big cheese in Polish science fiction. Also in Polish mass media in general. He has founded awards in Polish science fiction, also the magazines Science Fiction and Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror. These are Polish magazines, not the American ones with similar names. They publish mainly Polish stories, also some translations but not usually from English. He has published a number of novels in Polish, but this appears to be his only novel in English and it is now only available on Kindle. He lives in Poland.
This is a big, baggy book, containing three very different strands (almost four) which more or less come together. First of all we pass briefly through a starfleet academy analogue and follow the most promising but seriously under-appreciated cadets onto his first posting. The ship he is posted to is a scavenger. What was considered valuable was very interesting. But that part of the book ends with an unfortunate bang.
The second part begins with a rescue, which is not carried through. People die. Henryan Darski is so furious about having to leave friends to a cold hard death that he commits a serious crime, which results in him being incarcerated in a perfectly dreadful prison which experience is dealt with at length.
The third part has Darski released to serve as Communications Officer on a spaceship observing the other two sentient species, one of which is about to obliterate the other. Needless to say, a criminal such as he has not been released from the goodness of anyone’s heart: he is expected to pay dearly for his release. Here is where the title explains itself: there is a secret group on board which seeks to intervene in the fate of the war-like species which is about to become extinct. Henryan is tasked with finding out who they are and informing his superiors.
Neither of the other sentient species are likeable. Indeed, the human characters are pretty unlikeable too. It comes to something when the most agreeable characters in the book are Nike, who has a holographic woman to pleasure him, and Henryan who is a convicted murderer. Women play a very minor role. The three in the book are clever and able, but really only defined as desirable or harridan. There is, however, a large cast of characters, a number of them not human. I found the odd forenames made some of the humans difficult to keep separate (the author has several of the names starting with D). In the alien camp too the complexity of the names and their similarity to each other made identifying them a challenge when they’d been off stage for any length of time.
For this reviewer, the novel betrays its origins in a Communist country where for half a century since World War II plenty, beauty, and choice were in short supply but corruption, brutal security forces and persecution were plentiful. The author was in his late twenties when the Berlin Wall came down.
I found some problems with continuity – unsurprising, perhaps, in a substantial, episodic work like this. Some word choices may puzzle readers who are first language English.
If you are curious as to how Polish sci fi has developed since Karel Čapek introduced the concept of the robot in his 1920 hit play R.U.R. this may be worth your time.
Buy now from: Amazon US Amazon UK
Review is based on a pre-release advance reader copy, so we can’t gauge the final product in this area.
Rating: *** Three Stars
Reviewed by: Judi Moore
Approximate word count: 105-110,000 words