A future military-exploration force at the edge of Earth’s solar system confronts a vast zone of darkness—alerting a concealed alien civilization prepared to violently attack any intruders.
Richmond (Beyond Terra, 2017) opens the Oortian Wars series with a narrative set in a war-wounded 23rd century. Nearly two-thirds of Earth’s inhabitants—20 billion people—perish in a horrific strike by a dying “Korean Empire.” Among the victims: the wife and daughter of United Nations pilot Jack Falco, who becomes obsessed that he might have averted the atrocity by shooting sooner. Falco finds renewed purpose via a mission to the outermost solar system to a giant new space station at the Oort Cloud asteroid field (near Pluto’s orbit). The hopeful fresh start for Earth suffers inexplicable asteroid bombardments and a vast, encroaching “Darkness” field, impenetrable by sensors. Suspecting malice by another rogue state, the U.N. wants Falco, in advance of a state-of-the-art Chinese battle fleet, to probe the Darkness. Crosscutting points of view inform readers early that the mystery zone holds an ancient alien civilization—armored, bellicose organisms able to self-propel through the void of space. First contact between Falco’s vessel and Darkness denizens is inevitably hostile, initiating a hard-combat sci-fi plotline that continues through the cliffhanger ending. The novel sustains a high-stakes, chess-game feel not unlike a claustrophobic submarine-warfare thriller: “The officer’s eyes jumped from screen to screen, while the underpowered Battle-Net processed the sample at a slower, but efficient rate. Every few minutes a number dropped out of the streaming data into a dimly lit square on the bottom of the center screen.” Humans and “Oortians” maneuver and countermeasure, each gradually learning more about the enemy. Peace may not be an option in the muscularly bleak scenario, but enough about the Oortians (and the Darkness) remains shrouded in mystery to preserve the sense of awe and wonder for forthcoming volumes. Richmond insinuates romance and valor, even developing personalities among the kamikaze aliens, while the overall storyline follows a fatalistic arc of escalating strategies, casualties, and weapons of mass destruction.
A heavy but saluteworthy dose of combat sci-fi, impressive alien worldbuilding, and warrior gloom.