For anyone new popping up on the scene, I target my book reviews towards novelists (you can find my prior reviews here).
Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt was my holiday me me me book, but it turned into much more than that. For the novelist interested in speculative fiction, Darkship Thieves is a course of science fiction om nom nom nom with a major serving of romp and romance.
Here’s the book blurb:
Athena Hera Sinistra never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don’t ask for. Which must have been why she woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in her father’s space cruiser, knowing that there was a stranger in her room. In a short time, after taking out the stranger—who turned out to be one of her father’s bodyguards up to no good, she was hurtling away from the ship in a lifeboat to get help. But what she got instead would be the adventure of a lifetime—if she managed to survive . . . .
You can always count on the publisher, Baen, to deliver some classic sci-fi with a bit of the libertarian thematic, but Darkship Thieves is a not-so-subtle homage to Robert Heinlein, and that is one reason it is worthy of study. Once a reader gets into that, the book comes into its own in a major, major way, and how Hoyt does this is a bit of the ‘ole awesomesauce.
Essentially it goes like this: any Heinlein fan is going to read this book and start grinning like a dork about a quarter of a way through it. Halfway through the book the little science fiction libertarian in you will go “this is soooooo good,” but then, like the dogs of war unleashed, the novel takes off on its own and doesn’t end until the reader is breathless.
And Hoyt does this with an exploration of love and honesty, two great libertarian themes so worthy of needing exploration in science fiction.
Heinlein was the master of the libertarian thematic but he also dabbled on the edges of libertarianism beyond the personal affirmation and the economic delivery from tyranny. The core of libertarian philosophy centers around peaceful interactions between people in a “trust, but verify” relationship. A person has to believe in the overall good of mankind, yet expect the odd duck to cause problems and thus plan accordingly.
Thena finds herself as the obligatory fish-out-of-water in a libertarian society after being rescued by Kit, a genetically modified pilot who makes a living stealing power from the terrans. Kit brings her to Eden, a large asteroid with refugees from a nasty war back on Earth. Eden is, for the most part, an anarcho-capitalism society.
Oh, but Kit. Kit is so nakedly honest, so honorable (not to mention a bit of a studmuffin), Thena falls in love with him. She falls hard. She’s a product of a declining civilization, a civilization kept together through understated oppression and slight of hand. When encountering pure goodness, it drives her a little crazy, and she is drawn to Kit not so much because he can get inside her head (literally) but because Kit is simply Kit and no one else. Hoyt brings out the craziness in Thena as she realizes the core of her beliefs are a lie, and then, like a master novelist, Hoyt dials it up to eleven when Thena finds out her life has been a lie.
Thena, my fellow writers, kicks-ass throughout the entire novel despite all of the setbacks a cruel universe throws at her. And yet, when faced with the prospect of losing the first real taste of love she has ever known, she goes on an unholy libertarian rampage that is both epic and intensely personal at the same time.
I could prattle on and on about how Darkship Thieves is a marvelous science fiction book in a classical sense, with wonderful uses of technology and some truly clever settings. At its heart, however, it is a romantic love story wrapped up in a personal coming-of-age yarn about good triumphing over evil.
For a novelist in any type of speculative fiction, I give the novel five slices of bacon up out of five.