Refractions by MV Melcer (book review).

‘Refractions’, a debut novel by M V Melcer, is a standalone Science Fiction space opera.

Nathalie Hart, a space pilot, always looks out for her little sister, Anna. That is why she rushes down the space elevator to Feidi, the Chinese enclave in Kenya, when she gets the call to be with her at the birth of her second child. Anna delivers a healthy girl but suffers postnatal complications, or at least that is what everyone thinks at first. It turns out to be a recurrence of the plague that had previously killed two billion people. People are running scared. The rich buy and hoard the medicines that Anna and her baby desperately need. Nathalie will do anything to help them get what they need. In the end, she makes things worse by getting Anna’s husband killed in a riot she started, and there are still no medicines for Anna and the baby who died. Only Joshua, Anna’s son, remains. In an attempt to move past her failure with Anna and focus on the riot’s causes, Nathalie applies for and receives acceptance as a pilot for a long-haul space mission. She will not return to Earth for nearly a hundred years. At least, the upfront payment will be enough to give Joshua a good start in life.

Her ship’s mission is to investigate why Earth’s first colony on another planet, Bathseda, has gone silent after ten years of successful building and integrating on its surface.

The thirty-six crew members naturally divide into work groups and into Chinese and Americans, reflecting the divisions of the new ‘Cold War’. America had been fighting to reclaim its former glory after emerging from the worst of the climate disaster. By then, China had made massive technological and economic advances. As a result, there was spiraling tension between them. Nathalie, a Canadian, is acceptable to both nations, which is why she is also the Deputy Captain. The Chinese, who are the onboard technicians, forbid the Americans from accessing their secret-tech engines and maintain a mental connection among themselves. This makes for tensions within the crew.

Twenty-two years into the flight, Nathalie awakens from a deep sleep to discover the captain and six other crew members have perished in a fire, leaving her as the captain without any prior experience in leading such a politically divided crew. Even worse, she received a secret warning that the fire was sabotage.

With Nathalie’s history in Feidi playing a major part, the novel takes us through the various discoveries on the ship and, on Bathseda, makes her switch allegiances. She admits, ‘Funny how things change when you switch the angle, truth refracted into perspectives, like passing through a prism.’

The main characters in ‘Refractions’ are well-rounded and developing, making it a well-written puzzle to solve. However, it left me dissatisfied on several levels.

One of the main premises is that Earth’s human population will continue to grow, and despite the advances in technology, it will reach a point where it cannot sustain itself. Current evidence indicates a slowdown in population growth, with a slight reduction anticipated in the long run. Realizing a limit to human sustainability has brought about this.

Once I established the basic novel scenario, I was able to predict the next turn of events with ease on numerous occasions. This is, in part, due to a limited number of characters and milieus with which to develop the story. However, it is an author’s job to entertain, and she failed on the element of surprise.

There were some aspects of the technology that I was far from happy with. It is not realistic to hide a significant amount of mass on a spaceship from its engineers, who must maintain the spaceship in all its functional aspects. Mass affects flight and the amount of fuel used. The trajectory calculations must take this into account. Additionally, the journey necessitated the use of power and other resources, leading to additional challenges in engineering supply and maintenance. The whole thing felt like the waving of a magic wand with a glorious ‘Hey, presto!’ at the relevant point in the novel.

These issues aside, ‘Refractions’ is a novel with a political message: we humans need to face up to the truth about what we’re doing to ourselves and be responsible enough to work together to resolve the problems. In this case, it does succeed.

In summary, this space opera is a fun read with a serious message if you can ignore the underlying unrealistic issues.

Rosie Oliver

June 2026

(pub: Storm Publishing, 2023. 424 page paperback. Price: £10.99 (UK).  ISBN: 978-1-80508-278-1)

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