In Gillespie’s YA SF series opener, a young female survivor of a radiation-ravaged planet becomes the protector of a psychic child.
The first installment in the author’s Riders of the Stars series takes place in a space-faring future in which human-colonized worlds throughout the cosmos are devastated by an alien species called the Kraal, who come from a mysterious void to feast on human beings. The only way to deter the scourge is to detonate nuclear warheads. The world of Arcadia, 25 years after the invasion, is now one of numerous hell-planets where people attempt to survive in the “badlands” despite radiation, zombies, other void-spawned monsters, brigands, and a heavy-handed military. Ashe is a young woman raised in safety in a subterranean Arcadian enclave until her family perishes when the ruling “Commissioner” suddenly evicts them. The vengeful Ashe scrounges among the surface ruins and falls in with a couple of misfits on a self-described treasure hunt. Joining their raid on a bandit lair, Ashe becomes the guardian of a captive held there: Jade, a 6-year-old boy who soon displays unusual psychic powers. Jade, the product of a laboratory project, is also known as JDE-82 and is urgently sought by sinister authorities. The protagonists face assorted perils, typically in the form of video game–like “boss” battles; the author is also a game developer with a taste for cinematic action (“An explosion rattled the walls from the path behind them, shaking bits of gravel loose—the raiders were coming. With renewed energy, they continued running, slowing only when approaching cross tunnels”). The plot ultimately transcends video game conventions, growing more twisty and compelling by the final act. The author works in a microgenre defined as astropunk, characterized by post-apocalyptic settings and violence blended with a space-opera sensibility (in a nice touch, the chapter titles are vintage pop-song titles). Many elements here strongly evoke Japanese anime, but the material is devoid of raunch or profanity—the body count among the supporting ensemble gets pretty high, though.
This action-packed apocalyptic SF yarn will please attendees of comic book conventions and gamer expos.