Ocean Of Stars by John Dodd (book review).

Provided a spaceship isn’t expected to enter the atmosphere of a planet, it can be any shape as there will be no resistance to its manoeuvrability in the vacuum. Sails, especially those propelled by solar winds, have featured in various SF novels. With the possibility of such a variety of possible protuberances for which the only damage is likely to be collision with space debris or an actual act of war, sooner or later there had to be a spaceship that looked exactly like an old-fashioned sailing ship. The Unbroken Dawn is such a ship and is actually constructed with wood but then the crew of the ship are pirates.

Catarina Solovaris is an engineer and Martian-born. After the destruction of the planet, she has signed on with the Starlight Eagle not realising that the captain, Charles Godstorm, is psychopathic pirate and murderer. The voyage is short-lived when, after attacking one ship, they find themselves attacked in turn by the Unbroken Dawn. Taken aboard the galleon, some of the crew are taken on while Godstorm negotiates his escape with the Eagle. Gradually, Catarina realises that the encounter with the first ship hurled them a long way into the future where the technology is different and that her new captain, Morgan, is equally as crazy as Godstorm. Earning a place as the ship’s engineer, she finds a cubby in her new quarters untouched for years but containing a curious journal and map.

The rest of the crew is concerned when Morgan wants to take the ship through an area of space thickly packed with stars known as the Dragon, especially as she has been acting strangely. Beyond the Dragon, they discover another derelict ship. A few centuries earlier, a war resolved by using a device which effectively closed down the enemy worlds. This newly discovered ship has the means of freeing those worlds again. It then becomes a race to prevent this from happening.

There are some good ideas within this book, a plus since it is a debut novel. There are also some problems which may either be misconceptions from insufficient description in the prose or issues with world creation.

I like the idea of a spaceship shaped like a galleon and the technology that surrounds it. There is a kind of force field that is referred to as bubble technology where air is contained within it so there is no need for airlocks. There can be personal or encompassing a large structure enabling the crew to run around on deck as if the ship was on the high seas. But anyone that goes over the side, always goes down away from the ship whereas in reality they would be affected to whatever vector they have when being pushed away from the deck.

The Dragon is describes as a collection of suns which the ship must weave between. This is a spectacular image and there is a general misconceptions that the rocks in an asteroid belt are close together. While there could be such clusters (though unlikely), anything of a mass sizeable enough to glow would be a long way from any other or they would have coalesced long ago.

The first ship encountered by Godstorm is a time-ship, pre-programmed to visit various time periods. An intelligent reader will realise early on that Morgan is the Caterina who goes back twenty years and builds the galleon. Most time travel stories have built in consequences for the same person being in two places at once. This doesn’t happen here. Instead, there are interlocking loops, yet Morgan seems unaware of what is going to happen.

Like the time-ship, the novel tends to jump around and some of the interesting events happen off-stage and there are elements that don’t quite make sense, such as why Caterina, newly installed as engineer on Unbroken Dawn find the engineers cubby which contains Morgan’s journal and other useful items, apparently abandoned several years before. As captain and builder of the ship, why was Morgan hiding out in her own engine room?

Though there is good writing here and this is a fair debut novel, (he has a novella ‘Just Add Water’, also published by Luna Press) it could have done with a consultation with a scientist. This is an adventure reminiscent of earlier decades and should be enjoyed as such.

Pauline Morgan

April 2022

(pub: Luna Press, Edinburgh, 2022. 360 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-913387-95-2)

check out website: www.lunapresspublishing.com

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