We met Steve Wheeler at Reconnaissance (the 2015 National SF&F Convention), and he proved to be a very interesting person, with an unusual approach to military SF – he makes detailed models of the craft in his books, and photographs them, often in natural landscapes. Then he employs them in his writing. When he told me to go ahead and read this, the third book in his SF series, without having read the other two, I took him at his word. Now, I’m not so sure that was a good idea. It was fine for the first few chapters, populated mainly by new characters, but as more and more older characters were introduced who had been developed in the previous books, I found myself floundering. There are a lot of characters here, in at least three main casts; the people of the distant human colony Storfisk, the crew of the carrier Haast, and the crew of Basalt.
It’s a complex universe, too. Humanity is divided into several major factions, disputes are settled by war games, and who knows who’s doing what to whom… Then there are these vicious aliens called Urchins, who are in conflict with humanity, along with their inscrutable octopoid masters. And then are ACEs, Artificially Created Entities, often cybernetically enhanced, and in humanoid, animal or more exotic forms – yes, we can have dragons! One clever idea is the use of soul-savers – which allow characters to survive certain death, and be reincarnated immediately into a mechanical chassis or grow a new biological body. This feature, together with the range of possible character types and factions, and the great depth of detail, would make Wheeler’s universe an excellent setting for role-playing games.
The plot focuses on events on the Storfisk colony world, and its invasion by some very nasty alien predators. There’s plenty of action, a dose of mystery, and some scenes of truly memorable beauty, amid a great deal of carnage and destruction. I have to admit that I found Wheeler’s prose a bit awkward at times, forcing me to stop reading while I figured out what he was saying, thus breaking the flow. And I would like to have seen a bit more of the titular Onyx Javelin.
Steve Wheeler might not be the most elegant of writers, but he is a wonderful imagineer. The depth and detail of his future galaxy is truly impressive. And I’m thinking that I was right, and this really was the novel that should have received the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel award.
Purchased at Reconnaissance
Reviewed by Jacqui