Harpan’s Worlds: Worlds Apart by Terry Jackman (book review).

  ‘Harpan’s Worlds: Worlds Apart’ by Terry Jackman is a military space opera about an orphan trying to make good, but with a few twists added in.

Four year-old Harp is the only survivor of a shuttle crash on Harpan-Moon. They find him some hours later walking away from the disaster. When he tells his rescuers his name is Harpan, their quick-masked reactions scare him. So he lets them believe he is from the Harpan Orphan House. He certainly does not want to be found out to be an actual Harpan, even if his looks strongly suggest otherwise. He must hide his real identity, whatever that is.

He survives being handed round the Orphanage system and ends up in a foster-home, which is a ranch where he is being trained to be a herder. The ranch’s land-bill becomes due and the only way the farmer can pay it is by letting Harp be conscripted into the Militia.

The crew of the Militia cruiser Mercy accept him for what he says he is, but their captain, known to them as Regis, resents having a conscript and worse having a crewmember looking like the Founding Father of both World and Moon. When Harp helps rescue his crewmates from a difficult situation on Moon, Regis is so annoyed that he gets him transferred off his cruiser.

Once more, Harp finds himself being passed on, this time it is to World where he is to train for the navy. He has to go through all the same issues of avoiding attention, but has to go about this in a more sophisticated way, eg claiming he is an illegitimate son of someone in the Founding Father’s family and therefore at the ‘bottom of the social ladder’ and by never excelling in any of the required navy skills.

His training corporal gives him orders so quickly at the firing range that he reacts without thinking. The extremely high score, ‘three across the inner circle, three centre, in three seconds flat’, is noticed by his sergeant. From there on in, his course is set within the navy. It is also a route of progression that keeps him away from too many people. So more adventure beckons…

Writer Terry Jackman has done some very clever writing in this novel. Harp does not know he has a paranormal power that forces others to not notice him. When he does use it, it feels like a glitch in his memory, one second things are going wrong, the next everything is back to being the way he wants it. This interrupts the reader’s flow of the story, making them wonder what happened or miss something. In a way, this makes it experience-able for the reader.

The rest of the novel enhances this by being more traditional in plot and world-building. Many of the significant secondary characters are very cliché, such as the gung-ho pilot, the tech hacking whizz and the caring long-service corporal. Nevertheless, the fast pace of the story more than makes up for the ‘normality’ of the military space opera part of the story.

There was the occasional insight to give depth to some of the characterisation. A good example is when Harp takes a train: ‘He thought in distances. But then all that was reaching, seeing, even on a map, and so far he hadn’t seen anything on World, so maybe city folk didn’t think like that. It wasn’t about how far, just how long.

The main point of dissatisfaction is the few significant loose ends left at the end of the story. It makes me hope that a follow-on novel is planned to deal with them.

This is one of those novels that can be read at different levels of attentiveness. The space opera is just plain fun. The paranormal aspects, which can be rushed over, demand deeper consideration and thought-provoking.

Rosie Oliver

February 2023

(pub: Elsewhen Press, 2022. 306 pages paperback. Price: £10.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-915304-07-0)

check out website: www.elsewhen.press

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