In this debut novel, humanity colonizes space with the aid of an alien StarDrive found on Mars, left there millennia ago by an extinct race known as the Galactics.
In the distant future, earthlings have established themselves on many worlds, but always with a sharp and often dangerous divide between the superwealthy haves and the very poor have-nots. Humans could take even greater strides, but they cannot translate the lost language of the Galactics and learn their ancient secrets. Into this world is born the tough and clever Tony Palermo, who had risen from a sad and difficult youth to a career as an agent in the colonies on the moon and then fallen through a dismal job on a trading ship down into a lethal dilemma. Tony is caught stealing from the rich and powerful Illyan Espinosa, who offers him just one chance to save himself from certain death: steal the secret of translating the Galactic language from the scientist who may have cracked it with a file called Rosetta. Tony naturally agrees, and so begins a desperate adventure in which he struggles against the many forces that also want the key to Galactic. Along the way, he opts to rescue a secretly brilliant slave, Aja, who is forced to dig for alien artifacts and owns a “pet” angel, a mathematical genius. Things really heat up as Tony learns that the artificial intelligence duplicate of a metahuman revolutionary he once killed has reactivated, with all the human worlds ripe for chaos. Patterson’s characters are strong and well-delineated. The book’s pacing is fast despite dense worldbuilding that requires the reader to pay careful attention to many details (“With space travel, you needed an immensely powerful Gravitic Torus and a multi gigawatt nuclear reactor just to get started. You also needed a way of shedding all the waste heat the nuclear reactor created. So you also needed a huge radiator—bigger than a football field”). Dialogue is engaging and colorful, while action is frequent and well-described. The text is clean and clear despite the occasional minor typo (for example, “angle” instead of angel). Although most genre tales are now left open to sequels as a matter of course, in this case, it is a welcome choice.
An inventive, entertaining sci-fi tale involving valuable alien secrets.