BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Two worlds collide as the head of a Mars research and mining base investigates a mystery connected to a world where 18th century British sailing ships sail the solar system.
PROS: Interesting high concept; excellent action sequences.
CONS: The Mars base universe and characters don’t shine or sing as well as the universe of the Daedalus.
BOTTOM LINE: An ambitious and fun romp whose enthusiasm outweighs its flaws.
Impossible earthquakes plague a corporate base on Mars. Mars doesn’t get earthquakes. Tremors, maybe, from mining and messing around with digging up minerals, as is done on 22nd century Mars, but this is not an area where this is happening. So why earthquakes? What do they mean? Lt. Shaila Jain of McAuliffe base has a lot of questions, and an increasing sense of urgency to resolve them before they threaten the integrity of the base itself.
Meanwhile, in a very alternate 18th century, sailing ships of the British and other powers contend in space. In the style of the movie Treasure Planet, the British navy is supreme on the solar winds, but the research of a rogue alchemist could do more than just change the balance of power, or give freedom to those perfidious Colonials on Ganymede. That research could change everything. And not just for that universe, either. The diary entries of Lt. Weatherby of H.M.S. Daedalus are our window and passport into this world.
Alchemy, sailing ships in space, science and fantasy put together in a blender and set to high, the resulting book, The Daedalus Incident is a debut novel from Michael Martinez.
Science Fantasy seems to be a theme in my reading, or in the publishing world this spring, and The Daedalus Incident is the latest in that trend. The Daedalus portions of the trip are fantastic without reservation or hesitation, thrusting the reader into a world where the British navy has colonies not in America, but in the Jovian system, and other colonies and ports of call lie on Mercury, Venus and elsewhere.
The clearest analogy I can think of is, as mentioned above, the 2002 animated movie Treasure Planet. In that movie, ships, and space itself has breathable air, and the ships resemble 18th century galleons, gallessases, and other vessels. With some modifications and thoughts for making ships move in three dimensions that the designers of the movie did not think of, the author makes the shipboard life and the travel a reasonable proposition given the setup of the universe. It may not rise to the level of Patrick O’Brian, but there is considerable craft and detail put on display here. The portions on the Daedalus certainly evoke a feeling and sense of wonder that readers of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series might find familiar. And what a roleplaying game setting would this universe make! There are hints of conflicts and places as yet unseen that as a reader, I yearned for a greater glimpse at.
And, as one might expect in a novel set in an alternate 18th century, there are several historical characters who make delightful appearances. Given the use of alchemy, the Daedalus portions put me in mind of the Newton’s Cannon series by Gregory Keyes, which had a different 18th century of science fantasy, with numerous historical personages alongside the original characters. Like that series, sometimes Lt. Weatherby and his companions come off a bit dully as compared to the versions of real historical characters that they run into.
On the other hand, we have a 22nd Mars base investigating patently impossible events on the red planet. The combination of Red Mars aesthetic and the police procedural like investigation make for a striking contrast to the romance of planetary sailing ship adventures and derring do. Shaila Jain, as the main character of this section, makes for a beleaguered if implacable protagonist. While the reader may have suspicions from the get-go as to what is happening (having the advantage of seeing the other world), the struggle of Jain and her compatriots to understand the situation is done with a deft sense of timing and pacing. To explain just how the universes are related would be unfair, and a major spoiler. Suffice it to say that, with a touch of handwavium and a lot of verve, the author makes the intersection of the Daedalus and the Mars storylines, and more, to be plausible within the rules and bounds that he has set.
The major weakness for me in the novel is a relatively major one. Given how much verve, drive and sheer enthusiasm that leaps off of the page for the parts revolving around the Daedalus and her adventures, the storyline on the 22nd corporate Mars base cannot help but be thrown in shadow, and severely so. The characters try to be interesting, and there are embers of interesting relationships here, but the setting itself is arid, oppressive and feels much like a placeholder. Without the historical characters around, Lt. Jain and her counterparts did as characters come to a little more independent life, since they did not have to compete with any historical figures. Still, as a reader, I couldn’t wait to get back to Weatherby and the Daedalus, even the mystery of what was happening on Mars at time was barely enough to more than loosely hold my interest.
Overall, The Daedalus Incident is, especially in its Space Fantasy parts, entertaining and fun to read and despite its delays in publication, I hope it reaches its deserved audience, and that the author has the opportunity to explore the universe of the Daedalus, especially, much further.