Empty Caskets: Terran Patrol book 1 by Lewis Dually (book review).

‘Empty Caskets’ is the first book in what looks to be a series about the newly formed Space Rangers only they haven’t been formed yet, so this book details the events leading up to their formation. ‘Empty Caskets’ is set in the not so distant future where humans have just developed a warp drive but are in the testing phase. They have not yet ventured any further than our own Solar system.

We start with Commander Allen Paul filling in his time while on administrative leave from the United Earth Navy by doing a bit of temp work as a haulage co-pilot plying the asteroid belt. He’s on admin leave while a navy review board investigate the events leading up to the death of a crewman on the spaceship Dawn Rising which was under Paul’s command at the time.

It was while escorting the dead crewman’s body back to Earth that Paul noticed that there were a number of empty caskets being returned from the asteroid belt. While a casket should have contained the dead miner’s body, some were empty save for the dead person’s belongings. This strikes Paul as odd as caskets cost thousands of pounds while the usual shipping containers are much cheaper. Mining companies always have an eye on the bottom line and if they could cut costs they would, so some thing is not right.

The mystery of the empty caskets gives the book its name and leads Paul into a web of deceit and treachery. Surprises come quick and often for Paul once the Navy review board clears him of any wrongdoing. Firstly, he’s promoted and then assigned top secret mission where he will have command of two ships. It’s during the mission briefing that he learns of two known alien races who have had contact with Earth. The Grays simply observe and don’t interact while the Blacks appear to be aggressive and responsible for the abduction of people.

Paul’s mission is to capture a Black, preferably alive, and a working radio. The United Earth Navy only have traditional radios that operate at the speed of light. Fast though the speed of light is, it imposes a serious delay of several hours when trying to communicate with something near Neptune. It seems the Blacks have radios which allow for instant communication from one point to another regardless of the distance in between. This clearly gives them an advantage and it’s quicker to steal one than to try and invent one.

While not without incident, Paul does complete the objectives of his mission only to be attacked by a third alien species. The action flows quickly as Commander Paul has to save the Earth, unravel the mystery of the empty caskets and avoid a genocide while staying one step ahead of the human traitors. He’s got a busy schedule.

There are some things about ‘Empty Caskets’ I really liked. How we humans acquired our space drive technology was nicely done as was the moral issues around genocide. There were two main areas where I had problems believing such a thing was credible or even plausible. Firstly, it was tobacco. The Admiral smokes a cigar while Allen Paul chews it (do the Americans chew snuff?) as do quite a few other officers. Seeing the big drive to reduce smoking in all forms here in Europe, I just can’t imagine it being allowed on a spaceship.

The second thing was they, I think it’s the US Navy at this point, have an aircraft carrier called Trump. I shall say no more on the subject.

When he’s not fighting aliens, Paul is quite a good detective. He’s able to figure out what’s happening with the empty caskets and who’s involved by piecing together bits and pieces of information. It’s during his unauthorised investigation here on Earth that he first meets Merle Baca, head of the Texas Rangers, complete with spurs and a cowboy hat. It’s not a good meeting as Paul has just blown the cover on an on-going investigation they have been conducting for some time and to make things worse brought in the FBI and the Planetary Defense Agency (PDA). It turns out that Baca is about to leave his job as he’s been asked to head up the newly formed Space Rangers.

There’s a good mixture of human and alien characters in this story, although the aliens don’t get a lot of coverage. The technologies of the future on display here, including warp drives, gravity generators etc., are ones we are familiar from other Science Fiction stories, but some are presented slightly differently. A familiar setting does allow you to concentrate on the plot which is what’s needed as this is a good plot.

‘Empty Caskets’ is a thoroughly entertaining read with some rather good battles between spaceships. There is the empty casket mystery which allows Allen Paul to do a bit of investigative work, but his real skill seems to be as a spaceship commander, particularly when he goes into battle. I will keep an eye out for the next book in the series as I would like to see where the story goes.

Andy Whitaker

March 2018

(pub: Lewis Dually. 353 pages ebook. Price: £ 2.24 (UK). ASIN: B06VWQTWCK. Paperback: Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-52080-924-3)

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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).

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