I’m sorry. This just did not hold my attention.
More than a year ago, I read Phantom Planet, which is the second book in the Galaxy Mavericks series but came out before the first one. Near the end of that, Grayson, the main character in Honor’s Reserve, shows up to rescue Keltie (he’s in the space equivalent of the Coast Guard). At the time, the vibes I got were definitely eyebrow-raise-what-have-we-here-man-in-uniform-potential-romantic-interest-alert. So it’s disappointing to find that Grayson’s back story is, so far, more boring than Keltie’s.
I don’t have a problem with the fact that this space opera takes liberties with science. In fact, the author includes a hilarious disclaimer at the beginning announcing that he is planning to do just that. Some other Goodreads reviewers actually DNF’d this book because of perceived inaccuracies with hyperspace travel and the like. I would just like to remind my fellow science-fiction readers that hyperspace travel, no matter how convincingly it is “explained,” is FICTION. Travel that even approaches the speed of light probably physically destroys the object traveling. All hyperspace travel is fiction. So is evolution. And boy, is there some fictional evolution in Honor’s Reserve!
Scientists think that the nanocraft [carrying a selection of DNA from humans and various animals] collided with an asteroid that had some kind of molecular life on it, and that that asteroid crashed onto an Earthlike planet that supported carbon life. The two life forms mixed, rapidly evolved, and Arguses were born.Honor’s Reserve, p. 36
Arguses are aliens that basically have human bodies and the heads of pigs. And this entire, intelligent species evolved in … how long? “Nine hundred and fifty years.” Actually less, if you count the transit time for the nanocraft. Wow, that really gives a new meaning to “rapidly evolved.” But frankly, if you look into molecular biology, an intelligent species evolving from bacteria at all is just as unlikely as it evolving in 950 years. So, why not? Remember, this is science FICTION.
I also don’t mind the things in this series that might be considered anachronisms. The year might be in the 3000s, but human nature remains the same. So, Grayson and his fellow crewmembers getting onto a private spacecraft and giving it a bureaucratic-style safety inspection seems refreshingly realistic. I’m sure bureaucracy is not going to decrease with the advance of technology. And, perhaps my favorite moment in the book is when the heroes are trying to jump into hyperspace to escape the villains, and the computer keeps asking them, “Are you sure you want to jump into hyperspace?” and making them click a bunch of permissions, causing them to get caught by the people chasing them.
So then, why did this book keep losing my interest and why did I nearly DNF it at about 40%? Maybe it’s something about the writing. Although I am willing to put up with unrealistically easy jumping into and out of hyperspace, I do like the logistics of my action scenes to be nice and clear, and in Honor’s Reserve, they often weren’t. For example, it was sometimes not clear to me that a character had put their helmet back on (or never taken it off) before, say, the airlock was depressurized. That seems kind of important. There’s a scene near the beginning where Grayson is holding on to the outside of a space ship (or the edge of the airlock door, which is open? Not sure?) where the logistics were just not clear. The scene moved too fast. Show, don’t tell is great, but sometimes with sci-fi we need a little telling, or the scene actually loses drama.
Speaking of losing drama, there was definitely some untapped potential for character development here. I am speaking of Rina, the female villain of the story. [spoilers ahead] She is found to be human trafficking: helping the odious Arguses to kidnap people so they can enslave them. Then we find out that she is doing this in exchange for a promise from the Arguses to protect her and her family. She was at first enslaved, and she has the burn marks to prove it. Well, even if it’s not ultimately excusable, this seems like a pretty understandable motivation. It might bear looking into a little further. Rina has evidently been through some pretty heavy trauma recently and is in a desperate situation. We might want to examine that, no?
No. Rina is consistently portrayed as a sociopath. “You can’t trust anything she says.” She even comes right out and says, “It didn’t really bother me to enslave a bunch of other people, as long as it wasn’t me.” So Rina is thoroughly bad and we can safely hate her and turn her over to the Arguses.
Even this character arc might have been OK if it had been written with a little more complexity: if, say, Grayson had been tempted to feel sorry for Rina when he heard her tragic back story, had tried to turn her, and had then been double-crossed and we find her doubling down on her evil. But that’s not how it goes down. It’s as if Rina is barely a character at all.
To sum up: a bland, one-dimensional villain (and consequently, hero); aliens that don’t seem spooky, just like grosser, evil-er people; and action scenes that sometimes felt rushed and inadequately explained are all the reasons that I found the author’s notes at the end, about his philosophy of space operas, much more interesting than the book itself, and the reasons I am sadly giving this book two stars.
I will say that Phantom Planet, while it had some of these same problems on a smaller scale, was better than Honor’s Reserve. It had some spooky, unexplained things that promised more terror later in the series. I might give this series one more book before I give up on it.