The debut novel from acclaimed short fiction writer Palmer—who won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette for The Secret Life of Bots in 2018—is a breakneck-paced and action-packed science-fiction adventure featuring an endearing con artist whose current mission to retrieve a stolen spaceship ignites a war.
Although born in Scotland, Fergus Ferguson has traveled all over the galaxy making a career of “chasing things and running away.” His latest job is helping the Shipmakers of Pluto find and recover a sentient spacecraft that has been taken by Arum Gilger, a ruthless crime boss who has plans to wrest control of a deep space harvesting settlement called Cernekan from a precarious alliance of government and business leaders. Before Ferguson even arrives at Central—the ring station at the center of Cernekan that connects all the various habitats via a complex cable system—he and a passenger in a cable car are attacked, and he barely escapes with his life. Suddenly in the middle of a looming war between factions fighting for control of the settlement, Ferguson finds himself in peril again and again, needing ingenuity and a lot of luck to extract himself from deadly situations in pursuit of his objective. While Palmer excels at worldbuilding, plot intricacy, and pacing, the real power here is in the emotional connectivity of her main character. Ferguson is a brilliantly developed, multifaceted antihero—deeply flawed yet effortlessly identifiable—and, largely on the strength of that depth of character, Palmer has built a solid foundation for what could be a highly entertaining SF adventure series. And although some (OK, a lot) of the sequences may strain the bounds of believability, this is an undeniably fun read. (The scene where Ferguson uses vibrating alien sex toys as unconventional space weapons, for example, will stay with readers for a while.)
A nonstop SF thrill ride until the very last page.