In Aubin’s sci-fi series opener, a young cadet, part of a mission to save humanity by finding planets to colonize, stumbles onto a dangerous secret.
Zax, like many other teens, was born on a vessel known simply as the Ship and has trained since he was a child. It’s been millennia since humans, facing extinction on a dying Earth, built the Ship, during which time they’ve searched for habitable planets. Zax is a bright trainee who’s earned enough credits to put him on top of the Leaderboard, making his dream of becoming a pilot a distinct possibility. He’s unfortunately the object of ridicule—he vomits practically on cue during FTL (Faster-Than-Light) Transit. But he proves himself during a refueling operation when an attacking spacecraft surprises the Ship’s fighters. The Flight Boss praises Zax and fellow cadet Kalare for rescuing lives, but Zax earns the ire of trainer Cyrus, who winds up condemned and humiliated. The Boss, impressed by Zax and Kalare, proclaims he’ll mentor one of them, support that could garner the mentored a “gazillion extra points on the Leaderboard”. The two must endure rigorous Marine training, and Zax tries to avoid a revenge-minded Cyrus. They’ll have a chance to scout a new planet, already inhabited by aliens…and something considerably more shocking. Aubin’s debut novel launches a series; it merely touches on numerous elements that will most likely resurface later. Readers get little insight, for example, into the frequently mentioned concept of being “Plugged In,” which involves an implant that links a person to the Ship and allows private communication. Aubin does, however, slowly inject suspense, especially when Zax learns a secret that may be fatal for him to know. Most characters, like Marine officers, are belligerent, undermining Zax and Kalare. But those two are plenty likable. Zax is persistently ambitious and perky, and the talkative Kalare can’t suppress her giggles. The novel uses understandable jargon and sprints through the narrative until the end, when Zax makes a decision that could have drastic consequences—and aptly sets the stage for a sequel.
Relishable lead characters front an enthusiastic, jaunty adventure.