BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: The two worlds, alchemical and corporate future, meet again, as an ancient Martian plot draws them both to Saturn…and Siwa, Egypt, for an attempt to reopen the doorway between them, and beyond.
PROS: High Concept remains interesting. More character focus given a deemphasis on the fast and furious worldbuilding of the first.
CONS: The splitting of the parties in both worlds is only partially effective, some plotlines are frankly more interesting than others, the two halves feel less connected.
BOTTOM LINE: A followup that manages to improve on the first in significant ways but doesn’t quite leap to the next quantum level.
[Warning: Plot spoilers ahead for The Daedalus Incident]
In The Daedalus Incident, Michael J. Martinez’s debut science fantasy novel, a world of 22rd century corporatism and an alternate 18th century universe powered by alchemy collided when the machinations of a destroyed, dispersed race tried to open a way back to reality by manipulating events in both ‘verses. The alchemical pell-mell chase across the solar system stood in contrast to the scientific mystery-in-place set on Mars, an intriguing combination that straddled genre boundaries and remained resolutely entertaining.
Time has passed on, for both Lt. Weatherby and for Lt. Shaila Jain, although time has not passed equally in the Alchemical Verse and the Corporateverse. For Weatherby, it has been nearly twenty years since The Daedalus Incident. He is a Captain in his own right, with his own fine command and a respected officer in His Majesty’s fleet. He’s had adventures and successes in his long career, even as France and Great Britain slide into conflict. Lt. Weatherby’s duty comes to the fore as the aftermath of the Battle of the Nile and an escaped French prize ship sees him take to the spaceways again, in hot pursuit.
In the meantime, it has been only a few years for Lt. Commander Jain, but no less interesting. She has gotten the command of her dreams, the first manned mission to Saturn. But why have the Chinese mysteriously sent a ship of their own, without warning, or — even more strangely — without the fanfare of the technological achievement? What are they hiding, and what are they really looking for?
And, meanwhile, other survivors of the Daedalus Incident have not been idle, as investigations of the mysterious energy on the one hand draw a team of Project Daedalus investigators across the globe, and on the other hand, alchemist Andrew Finch learns that Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt may have been for more than geopolitical reasons.
In The Enceladus Crisis, events move away from Mars, a good decision allowing depictions of not only Earth, but an interplanetary journey. Being in command of the Saturn mission allows Jain, particularly, to shine as a character in this second volume. Running a ship instead of a backwater base is clearly where she belongs, and the text makes that absolutely clear, even when things go wrong. And they go very wrong indeed.
The asynchronous nature of the timestream allows the author to reforge Lt. Weatherby into a full-fledged leader and action hero. Weatherby is comfortable in his role as captain, is good at it, and there is an air of heroic competency about him. Again, like Jain, we get to see him in his element, doing what he is good at, and rising to the challenges thrown his way. We only get drops and mentions of Weatherby’s career over those two decades, and it’s clear, should he care to tell them, there are stories to be told of his development from fresh Lieutenant to experienced Captain. As such, in a real sense, we get Weatherby as a brand new character, and the author unleashes him gleefully onto the plot.
Atomizing the two sides, each into two plot lines, gives us a quartet of viewpoints, and two pairs of storylines that run in parallel with each other. The two Earth bound plot lines are somewhat less intriguing than the two space-set ones, however. The Corporateverse thread does allow the author to do some more solid worldbuilding on what this corporate future is like and how the “rules of the game” are played. If anything, I think the even more could have been done in this regard in addition to the tantalizing worldbuilding on Earth do we see. The alchemical universe, however, does give the author a chance to indulge in a story line reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or The Mummy. Napoleon in Egypt is a relatively popular trope for occult fantasy novels, but Martinez’s take, as it is tied to the alchemical nature of his universe, is a new one.
The two universes in the novel, though, feel somehow less connected here than in the first novel and there is far less interplay between characters between universes to be had. I think this dilutes one of the strengths of The Daedalus Incident. While from a series standpoint it may make sense, from the level of the novel itself, it ultimately works against it.
The good far outweighs the bad, here, however. The author lays down new worldbuilding on both sides, deepening both universes and the multiverse that contains them. The asynchronous timestreams allows for Weatherby and Jain to be better portrayed as equals in narrative and story weight, and the novel reflects that. Most importantly, the sequel continues the first novel’s mix of alchemy, intrigue, mystery, science fiction and high adventure into an entertaining package. Mike Martinez’s The Enceladus Crisis avoids some of the pitfalls that many second novels face by trying some new things, and giving us some new facets of his interesting universe.