Monday, February 9, 2015

Impulse - Dave Bara

Impulse is the debut sci-fi novel from Dave Bara. It’s protagonist is Peter Cochrane, a ships Lieutenant in a space navy composed of two uneasily allied powers, and a third balancing force, the ‘Librarians’ of Earth. In a nutshell, it’s got a lot of high adventure, the odd firefight, some tense space battles, and some really clever ideas.

The background to all the conflict is rather interesting; after a disastrous interstellar civil war, two of the surviving factions have come together in a rather strained compact of alliance, and with the assistance of “The Librarians”, a mysterious group from Earth, have set about rediscovering the remains of the Empire that birthed them, with a combination of peace, enlightenment, and superior firepower.

The surviving factions are politically interesting; in one case, seemingly drifting from a more democratic set of institutions toward a monarchy. The whole system has a vibe of The Mote in Gods Eye about it, and that isn’t a bad thing. The third faction, the Historians, is another wrinkle for the reader’s attention – serving their own purposes, they advise the crews of the ‘Lightships’, ships which they provided to the growing Alliance, and whose full capabilities only they control. The ideals and agendas of the Librarians are gradually made clearer over the course of the text, and they’re interestingly presented – if not given the space and explanations I would have liked. Hopefully that will change in future books!

The descriptions of the ships, and the space battles themselves are well done; the crew feel a bit like submariners, their actions remotely detached from the gross impacts of their actions – again, not a bad thing. We don’t get quite the intricacies of something like Honor Harrington, but it makes for a suspenseful read, and kept my attention admirably.

The plot is certainly fast paced, leaping from crisis to crisis, not really giving the reader a chance to pause for breath. This is a shame, in a way, because whilst the text presents a lot of difficult situations, it doesn’t really seem to give each the depth and attention it desires, so focused is the plot on showing the reader their next cool thing (and attendant crisis). I’d have been happier to have taken half the situations in the text, explored those more deeply, and presented the remaining plot threads in another book entirely. Still, I certainly can’t complain that nothing happens.

The characters are a bit problematic. On the one hand, the protagonist is carrying around guilt, pressure to live up to a sibling, and a few other flaws – on the other, these don’t really present themselves in the narrative as well as they might; the reader is given a view into these motivations, but they don’t seem to help drive actions. On the other, the supporting cast suffer from being driven by the plot – in some instances, the emotions they feel seem to be forced, in service to the narrative rather than growing organically within it; the romance threads in particular are interesting in the plethora of character paths they leave open, but the rapidity of their growth is startling. There’s also the occasional problem of characters being forced to be idiots for purposes of the plot, and the emotions and logic of the supporting characters, in particular, seem to turn on their head at the convenience of the plot. It’s a shame, because the actual characters are quite interesting – they just need more time to develop, more space given to them, and some structure given to their actions, to make the characters and the plot act in symbiosis.

Overall then, this is a solid debut, and a good start to a series. The seams creak a bit, especially around the characters, and in the multiplicity of plotlines, but there are some interesting ideas, and a broad and fascinating universe available to counterbalance this; right now, this is a decent read – I’m hopeful that as further books become available, they’ll pare down the amount of plot, and give the characters more room to breathe. That said, right now, it makes for a perfectly good popcorn read – it just has potential to develop into a lot more, and it would be good to see that potential realised.

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