Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Mercenary Deviana Morris wants to join the Devastators, the King’s own guard on Paradox. To gain experience, she takes her high-tech suit of powered armor and applies for a position as security guard on the unlucky Terran trading ship Glorious Fool. Attracted by the handsome ship’s cook Rupert, she is stunned to meet the ship’s doctor, a potentially dangerous xith’cal. Fast-paced and entertaining, with a kick-ass heroine who’s curious, stubborn, loyal, and passionate, this book will appeal to fans of military science fiction or space opera. This is the first book in the Paradox trilogy, followed by Honor’s Knight. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is a good readalike, along with books by Elizabeth Moon and David Weber.
Provenance by Ann Leckie
Provenance is about identity, history, value, and connections. While not as stunning as the award-winning Ancillary Justice and its sequels, this is a thoroughly absorbing, enjoyable return to that universe. The people on Hwae highly value vestiges, rare artifacts and collectible documents. Some of them may be forgeries, and others may be stolen. Family is key, with some politicians adopting children to vie for the chance to claim their parent’s position and name. Gender is key here, with e and eir often substituted for he/she and their. Ingray Aughskold has taken a big chance to secure her future by borrowing against her inheritance to rescue Pahlad Budrakim, a thief, from “Compassionate Removal”. The person she finds claims to be Garal Ket, not Pahlad. Ship captain Tic Uisine provides food and some clothing, but is temporarily stuck in port when the alien Geck claim his ship is stolen. Back on Ingray’s planet Hwae, her scheming brother Danach can’t believe Ingray’s been so daring. Soon a visiting diplomat is killed with Ingray, Garal Ket, Danach, and another diplomat present, along with an AI mech. Ingray gets caught up in one crisis after another, most notably when there’s a hostage crisis involving her parent and some children who were visiting the Lareum, a museum containing rare vestiges. Ingray is smarter, braver, and more creative than she realizes, although the reader catches on pretty quickly. Ingray’s friend Taucris, who doesn’t declare her gender and claim her family name until she’s an adult, certainly appreciates Ingray. Identity is also key, with Garal Ket/Pahlad, Gecks and human Gecks, AI mechs with false identities, and orphans having not quite the same status as foster children. Highly recommended for science fiction readers looking for an compelling, fast-paced novel, especially fans of C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
The reader meets the eclectic crew of the spaceship Wayfarer through the eyes of new records clerk Rosemary Harper, who’s always lived on Mars. Wayfarer tunnels through space to anchor new wormholes, and the crew spend a lot of time together, except for the aging navigator pair and the algae tech, who’s a workaholic. This is an engaging story, like a lighter Firefly or Voyager episode, which I really enjoyed reading. The crew have adventures and help save the day, but it’s really about getting to know the appealing human, alien, and artificial intelligence personalities on the ship. I’m looking forward to reading A Closed and Common Orbit, to be published in March.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
While I read this novel because it is a space opera and was a finalist for the Hugo and Locus awards for science fiction and fantasy, I think readers of thrillers and noir mysteries would also enjoy it. James S. A. Corey is a pseudonym for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham. Jim Holden is the executive officer of an ice hauler which responds to the distress beacon of a ship. Holden takes a small crew on a shuttle to board the Scopuli, which is empty of survivors. On Ceres, a dwarf planet between Mars and Jupiter, Detective Joe Miller is divorced, unhappy, and drinks a lot. His earthborn partner gets harassed frequently for being different. Miller is assigned to look for Juliette Mao, the missing daughter of an Earth VIP, and to make sure she goes back to Earth, willing or not. Unlikely sources give him a tip that she was on board the Scopuli. Miller tracks down Holden and crew as interplanetary war is on the horizon, partly because of some rash broadcasts Holden made. Now they must team up to stop a horrifying biological experiment brewing on Eros, a small asteroid. There is a lot of mystery, descriptions of stations and ships that feel real, and a very fast pace. There’s even a little romance, and an almost hopeless quest. Readers will be happy to learn that a sequel, Caliban’s War, has been published, with another book in the works. Other space opera authors to try are C.J. Cherryh, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Jack McDevitt. If your prefer noir mystery on the Moon, try The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.