Hard sci-fi with a heart, Strong’s debut is the story of a young woman fighting a corrupt system to keep a promise to her dying mother—and maybe, in the process, find a planet to call home.
By the time Meriel Hope is born, the human race has long outgrown Earth; while a powerful elite remains on the surface, the rest of mankind has spread throughout the galaxy. Meriel, her parents, and her little sister, Elizabeth, are “spacers,” living aboard their cargo ship, the Princess, with a few other families happily adapted to a life where gravity could give out at any moment. Meriel is nearly 12 when a routine hyperspace jump turns into an ambush; for 10 years, Meriel doesn’t know who killed her parents, and it seems that no one wants her to know. The official story is that her parents were drug runners murdered by pirates, with Meriel being the sole survivor of the tragedy. But, no matter how many times she’s called delusional, she just knows that the other kids and the Princess are still out there. What she needs is concrete proof, and she doesn’t have much time: once she finds the Princess in dry dock under a false name, she has 21 days to uncover the truth before a mysterious buyer destroys it. Her investigation implicates the highest levels of human authority in a shocking conspiracy. Strong’s sci-fi explores class tensions and the insidious ties between government and corporations. He’s not lacking for ideas: Meriel’s world is meticulously fleshed out, from economy to fashion. However, it wouldn’t hurt to hold back some of that exposition: for instance, how important is it for readers to understand the command structure of Meriel’s ship? Often, Strong uses footnotes to define neologisms (and sometimes vocabulary, like “pro bono”) when context would do. Fortunately, though, the missteps in style never overwhelm the novel.
Technical detail and digression sometimes slow down this complex, compelling tale of galactic intrigue.