Altered Starscape (Andromedan Dark: Book One) by Ian Douglas

January 24, 2017 | By | 3 Replies More

I have always wanted to use the phrase ‘it’s got everything but the kitchen sink’ in a SF book and ‘Altered Starscape’ gives me that opportunity. Mobile O’Neill colony’s, AIs, Cyborgs, modified humans, aliens, Alderson disks, Dyson swarms, you name it and its most likely to be in ‘Altered Starscape’. I don’t mean this in a bad way as Ian Douglas has built a future universe that pulls together a lot of ideas with a result that just works. Let’s have a quick synapse of the plot before discussing these ideas further.

In the year 2162, the spaceship Ad Astra, towing two mobile O’Neill colonies, sets off to the capital of the Coadunation civilisation located at the heart of the Milky Way. Members of the galactic Coadunation civilisation contacted humans 36 years earlier. After the initial introductions, humanity has been invited to send a diplomatic exchange which is where this story starts. When configured with the O’Neill colonies, the combined ship is known as the Tellus Ad Astra.

I should mention that not every human was in favour of an alliance with the Coadunation. The aliens are fighting a war with an entity called The Denial and want the humans help. Why they should want the help of a primitive race that has only just got off their home planet is not known but makes a few senior people suspicious. The captain of the Ad Astra, Lord Commander Grayson St. Clair was one of those suspicious people. Some people consider his posting to the Ad Astra to be a punishment for his outspoken views regarding the proposed alliance.

As Lord Commander St. Clair has command of the Ad Astra and the military complement of the crew. The total compliment of Tellus Ad Astra is over a million with the military being a very small proportion. The majority are scientists, diplomats, engineers and other civilian support staff required to staff a diplomatic outpost. As it should not be a long voyage, St. Clair is prepared to tolerate his civilian counterpart Imperial Lord Director Günter Adler.

Technically, Adler is in overall charge of the mission as St. Clair’s role is limited to delivering the O’Neill colonies which should be a fairly short mission. Unfortunately, things don’t go to plan and the jump to the galaxy’s centre causes the Tellus Ad Astra to fall into a black hole. Normally this would result in the destruction of the ship and everyone on it but for reasons which aren’t clear the ship survives and is catapulted 4 billion years into the future. The good news is that everyone survived and they make contact with an apparently friendly alien race. The bad news is that the Andromeda Dark is coming.

That’s as far as I can go with the plot without introducing spoilers. What I can talk about is the human civilisation which is quite different to what we currently have. The political structure is not democratic but subtly different to totalitarian. There’s also the legal position of robots which currently have to be ‘owned’. This is a factor in St. Clair’s life as he has an android companion after his previous girlfriend left him. There are limits on the capabilities and responsibilities of the AIs that inhabit the ship. Although most people are clothed, social nudity is an accepted norm which is another difference to today’s society.

While most humans have some form of modification to allow them to interface to the ship’s communications networks, some humans have taken these modifications to extreme measures. There are also genetically altered humans whose changed physical form allows them to undertake duties which the stock human body simply could not cope with.

‘Altered Starscape’ is packed full of ideas you may be familiar with but they have novel twists. This makes for an enjoyable and interesting read. There’s quite a bit of military action to which I thought was well done. If I was to criticise then I’d say that other than Grayson St. Clair, the other characters aren’t developed enough. We don’t really get enough information on his direct reports or the main civilians. St. Clair’s android companion Lisa (full name Lisa 776 AI Zeta-3sw) is an interesting character in her own right. Perhaps we will learn more of Lisa in future novels as this is only book one.

If you deconstruct the story then you could say it’s not all that original. A human colony ship gets transported to an isolated spot or time in this story and they must cope and survive. There’s infighting amongst the humans, friendly aliens and an extremely powerful nemesis from another galaxy. The big but here is that I really enjoyed it. Douglas has extrapolated our culture rather than just taking the crew of a 21st century ship and sticking them on a spacecraft.

The book has an intriguing ending and there’s a very short epilogue to give you a teaser of what lies within book 2. Having been hooked with ‘Altered Starscape’, I’m going to get the second volume as soon as I can.

Andy Whitaker

January 2017

(pub: Harper Voyager, 2016. 373 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US) £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-06237-919-1

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Category: Books, MEDIA, Scifi

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About AndyWhitaker

I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties.

My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

Comments (3)

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  1. DMcCunney says:

    Ian Douglas is a pseudonym for William R. Keith, who wrote a series I’m fond of called Warstriders. (I got a laugh out of him at an SF con when I commented that Warstriders *almost* made the giant fighting suits beloved of Anime (think Mobile Suit Gundam) believable.)

    This book looks like the opener to another series comparable the the one I’ve been following called Star Carrier America. In Star Carrier, humanity encounters something called the Sh’Daar, an interstellar polity composed of a number of sentient species that appears to be equivalent to a galactic empire. The Sh’Daar inform humanity though local intermediaries that humanity will join the Sh’Daar collective – no choice – and will abandon certain lines of research when they do. It transpires the research in question is the sort of thing that might lead to Transcendence, but why the Sh’Daar are bothered by this is unknown. Part of humanity, mostly in Europe, favor acceding to the Sh’Daar demands. Another part, mostly in North America, don’t agree. The America becomes main ship in a human fleet that finds itself engaged in active against Sh’Daar proxies while politics back on
    Earth start going to Hell in a handbasket.

    Douglas/Keith is a dab hand at keeping complex plots going, and has created some of the weirdest aliens in SF. (All of who are logical extrapolations of what might occur if live evolved and attained sentience in environments *very* different from ours.

    This new one is added to my list to read when opportunity arises.

    • AndyWhitaker says:

      Hello Dennis and thank you for your comment. This is the first book I have read by Ian Douglas (I’m sticking with the pseudonym!) and I was impressed with the scope of plot. It is as you say, the first book in a new series called Andromedian Dark. As I was new to the author I rndertook some research to see what else he has produced and saw the Star Carrier series along with three other trilogies and a Star Corpsman series of books. It seems Douglas has been busy, although how I missed his work I will never know. One last point which you touched on is that the aliens in Altered Starscape are truly alien in both physical form and culture. This is a refreshing change.


      • DMcCunney says:

        You *do* want to stick with the pseudonym, as that’s the name the book was published under. I was just pointing out it *is* a pseudonym. And given the volume of output, Keith/Douglas is a lean, mean writing machine. 🙂

        I was vaguely aware Douglas existed, and grabbed some of his works when I discovered he was a pseudonym for an author I liked and have met. My To Be Read stack is measurable in round thousands, and I tell people the nice thing about eBooks is you don’t call the EMTs if it topples over on me.

        It takes extra evidence to get me to add a new author to the list. Who published it is one factor: I give preference to Tor and Baen because Tor is good for the literary stuff and Baen is very good at action/adventure.

        The fact the author is a pseudonym for someone whose work I like is another.

        Reviews from folks I trust is a third, and a description that indicates the book is pushing the boundaries and has a take I haven’t seen on the concept is a fourth. (I am old enough to have been reading the genre for 50 years, so a take I *haven’t* seen is significant.)

        And really alien aliens are always a plus. One chap I’d love to someday meet is Jack Cohen, a UK lecturer in animal taxonomy. The late James White commented that whenever he thought he’d come up with a truly different alien for his Sector General interstellar hospital series, he’d call Cohen, who would promptly rattle off at least two Earth species twice as weird as what White had come up with. 🙂 Keith/Douglas would likely provide Jack with a challenge.

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