Friday, 20 May 2011

Only Fools And No Space Horses [Review: Trading In Danger]

Trying to explain the appeal of 8-bit phenomenon Elite to non-players, I sometimes describe it as a little like Only Fools And Horses, set in a future where the single-handed wheelin' dealin' interstellar trader is king.

Trading In Danger, a really enjoyable novel and first in the Vatta's War series, describes a similar future that is more commercial than naval. You may be familiar with Elizabeth Moon's track record: I am pleased to report that while polo is mentioned in passing, she has reined in her hippophilia and written a space opera almost devoid of horses, repairing what is arguably the Serrano Legacy's mane failing.

Kylara is a Vatta heiress - a member of both the Vatta family and their space logistics company. She chose the military over the family business but has been kicked out before completing training. To escape the paparazzi but also, we suspect, as a family punishment, she is sent on what should be a boring trade run saddled with a worn-out starship and her aunt's extremely dodgy fruitcakes.

The plot moves forward at a fast canter. Kylara herself is made of the Right Stuff and packs a decent right hook - her dismissal does not reflect a lack of fighting spirit but her tendency to fall for a good sob story, a likeable but potentially fatal Achilles' heel. While I'm not sure she'd be a match for Honor Harrington or Bet Yeager at close range, I think she'd at least make them work for their victory.

What gives Kylara's dilemmas, and this book, the upper hand in a photo finish, is that Honor too often has the upper hand - surprise, experimental weapons or disguised warships, extra intelligence and sneaky telepathic cats. Especially the cats. Kylara has to face up to mercenaries and other threats in a trading ship with literally no weapons - outgunning them is never an option and she has to stay calm, use the resources she has and know when to wait and when to raise the whip.


Maurice Mitchell said...

Another cool review. Doesn't sound like my kind of book, but it sounds good

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Thank you MM!