A debut novel examines a striking spacegoing alliance and the efforts of a starship crew to explore a new planet—despite the inconvenience of a pirate attack.
A bit under two centuries from now, Homo sapiens navigate the stars in benevolent Gene Roddenberry fashion, accompanied by alien cohorts (“Xeno sapiens”) and software-based intelligence (“Techno sapiens”). But the nested, concentric-circle starship Patchen (named for a real-life Ohio poet, betraying the author’s Cleveland origins) falls prey to space pirates, resulting in a handful of crew members becoming marooned on a “rare walnut shaped world” known as Tar’Karchi to its inhabitants. The denizens are a race of multiarmed humanoids, not technologically advanced but civilized enough, with variant species who tunnel, swim, or fly. The steadfast Patchen refugees persevere—chiefly thanks to peripatetic officer SumWon, whose duties include placating the natives with gifts of fancy clocks. Respecting local customs, arts, and literature (and not above taking extraterrestrial lovers), the visitors explore Tar’Karchi, prep its friendly folk for membership in their “InterSpace” alliance, and muster a counterattack on those nasty pirates. While there are poetic descriptions in these pages, the prose can be challenging: “Fifty degrees ahead of the Galactic Bar Meridian, between the dominating tentacle of the Scutum-Centaurus Arm at 15,000 lightyears out and the tail of the Perseus Arm at 30,000 lightyears out with the frill of the Sagittarius Arm halfway from the Scutum-Centaurus Arm inside it, the solar system sinuates its epic drain-circling orbit, currently in the heart of the Orion Spur, galactic love dart of the beautiful space slug.” If readers can get past that introductory sentence (and lots more of the same), then this experimental sci-fi, Robinson-ade story from pseudonymous author Biloid (poet and comix creator Will Napoli) will be to their grokking. The easygoing narrative provides the author with opportunities for deep dives into word invention, alphanumeric fun, and multiple genre shoutouts (he deftly pays tribute to Love and Rockets and Robert Heinlein in just a few paragraphs). More playful in tone than pitilessly self-indulgent, the slim novel is followed by appendices on Biloid’s eccentric planetary taxonomies, “jumpstone” drive technology, alt-calendars, and “vispo” (visual poetry), with a note that he’s thought these things through for further literary projects set in a self-referential multiverse.
A galactic trek for fans of poetic, experimental tales; other sci-fi fanciers may wish to stick with the likes of Luke and Leia.