In this second installment of a sci-fi trilogy, two parties’ planned negotiations for peace set the stage for deceit and a provocation of war.
Humanity’s exploration of the stars ultimately prompted the discovery of the Hominins and their worlds as well as an agreement between the two races dubbed the Hominin Union. But it’s the Union, unfortunately, that seems intent on covering up an ancient alien artifact, 15 years after its unearthing in the 27th century. The Union’s General Intelligence Directorate has agents following surviving crew members of the USS Vitus Bering, which found the object. This includes geologist Hans Beckenbaur, who may have evidence of another relic, likely from the same ancient race. Aliens known as the Naati, meanwhile, have been conducting raids, presumably to draw out warships and steal their technology. Aware of two distinctive Naati factions (the Tolkists and the Reactionaries) and anticipating a civil war, the Union wants to negotiate peace with the less-aggressive Tolkists and secure an ally against the Reactionaries. Negotiations will take place on the world of Borrega, with the Union promising the primarily Human inhabitants that it will rebuild their devastated technological infrastructure. But the Union, wanting to annex Borrega, plans to do so however it can, even if peace talks prove unsuccessful. Others, meanwhile, aim to incite a war with the Naati, believing their defeat would be a monumental display of power for Humans.
As in his preceding novel, Vincett (Hope’s Surprise, 2016, etc.) centers on a multitude of enthralling characters. Sometimes they’re mere hints, though still intriguing, such as a reference to Yathurians, genetically similar to Humans. (According to one theory, an alien civilization long ago transplanted Humans to other planets.) Villains, at the same time, are neither thinly defined nor easy to detect, be they Human or alien. Much of the plot consists of strategic maneuvering; the Directorate, for example, discusses information derived from a Naati defector. But a plethora of action abounds: Beckenbaur retrieves former Bering commander William Bandele from the planet Akaisah, blocked by an Imperial fleet; and characters’ perspectives during a telepathic Naati’s mental encroachment are invigorating as well as surreal. Like any good sci-fi series, the narrative’s reinforced by a rich, dense history, often relayed organically via dialogue. Naati Fangrik, for example, says the Unification Wars led to the first time Humans were united under a single government. He also cynically notes that anyone opposed to the move was “slaughtered” and adds his rather pointed opinion that “Humans traffic in lies, deceit, and violence.” Vincett manages to keep the subplots churning throughout (Akaisha natives resist the Union’s tyrannical rule) and injects a bit of mystery (the Naati’s inexplicable dig site on Borrega). The novel concludes with four useful appendices listing characters and rankings as well as specifics about Borrega and the relevant concept of “test of sovereignty.”
A smart, gloriously complex tale that wholeheartedly primes readers for the author’s final entry.