First, a little parsing of the word ‘weird.’ I don’t use that word in the sense that what you read in this first book a new space opera trilogy is odd (but it is). Rather, I use the term ‘weird’ as the type of genre fiction made most popular by old masters like H. P. Lovecraft and new practitioners like China Mieville. Weird fiction deals with the supernatural in a non-magical kind of way and, in my limited knowledge, a lot of insectoid stuff. It’s an curious distinction, and one I honestly haven’t seen in a mainstream work of science fiction before.*
A Red Peace by Spencer Ellsworth (who landed on my radar after reading this interview by Chuck Wendig) is space opera in the grand old style: space battles between rival groups (a Resistance and an Empire; sound familiar?), interesting ways in which humans have evolved over the centuries with tech, and new-to-me concept like the soul sword (it not only kills you, but the welder accumulates all the memories of the victim). If Star Wars: The Last Jedi merely whetted your appetite for more space opera, Ellsworth’s book is perfect.
The story is told in two different, first person, present tense points of view, allowing you to see this new world from two distinct vantage points. Jaqi, an eighteen-year-old “cross” (not all human) who—and stop me if this sounds familiar— is a navigator taking any job she can get in order to put food in her stomach. Naturally, she gets herself involved in a grander story when she happens upon three human kids. Yeah, they’re human—a rarity in this galaxy from the lost Earth—but they also have the McGuffin (ahem, black box) that John Starfire, the hero of the Empire wants. Does Jaqi help the kids? You know the answer.
The other main character is Araskar, another “cross” who was born out of the vats only five years ago. He’s a soldier under Starfire’s command and, surprisingly, a seasoned veteran in an army that seems only to grow men like Araskar in order for them to be cannon fodder. He’s got a drug habit, but he’s also ready to stop fighting. As you can imagine, Araskar is part of the group assigned to locate the missing children and retrieve what they possess.
Oh, and there are sun-sized spiders and spaceships that are nothing more than the abandoned carapaces of an insectoid race of aliens that Araskar and his soldiers actually get inside of and pilot. Complete with slime.
Yeah, color me intrigued.
What also intrigued me was Ellsworth incorporation of music as a type of "Force." Not sure I've seen that before either.
At only 208 pages (6 hours and 20 minutes in the audio), Ellsworth packs a lot into this slim novel. The pace never lets up as the characters run pell mell through the paces. In a novel as short as this, there isn’t a lot of time for world building. If you’re like me, there’s nothing that grinds a story to a halt than a long discourse into some world building an author feels compelled to write simply because they dreamed it up. Ellsworth often lets the reader just figure things out—not too difficult, really—and occasionally throws in a sentence or two of explanation, usually in the middle of the action. So welcome.
A Red Peace is a splendid book and what better recommendation do you need other than me telling you I’m ready to dive into book 2, Shadow Sun Seven, right now before the third book, Memory’s Blade (out 27 February) is published. Just look at those covers!
*If you know of any other examples, please let me know.