Strange aliens. Mysterious artefacts. A cold war that used to be hot. A pilot with a dark secret in her past, and a troubled present. Disarmament treaties for weapons of mass destruction. Plots. Politics. Prospecting. Strange technology. Aliens. Bureaucracy. Terrorism.
With elements such as these, I’m a little surprised that Laura E. Reeve’s Major Ariadne Kedros novels didn’t make a bigger splash. Peacekeeper came out in 2008, followed by Vigilante and Pathfinder. All three are already out of print.
I’m quite fond of them, because while they’re a species of military space opera, their military aspects are those of a peacetime military. So we get intelligence and counter-intelligence operations and uncomfortable co-operation with old enemies, bureaucratic audits and the problem of your own side’s politicians, sabotage and spies and lots of manoeuvring. They have a civilian perspective much military space opera neglects to include. And Reeves humanises both sides of the conflict between the Terran League and the Confederation of Autonomist Worlds.
Our protagonist is Ariane Kedros, a pilot for a prospecting company (with a staff of precisely two: herself, and her boss/friend, Matt Journey) and a major in the Autonomist military reserve. When occasionally recalled to active duty, she works for the Directorate of Intelligence. But Ariane Kedros isn’t the name she was born with, and during the war she was pilot on the only vessel to ever deploy a temporal distortion weapon in an inhabited system—a weapon capable of destroying a sun. To the Terrans, she’s a war criminal. To the “Minoans,” the aliens whose intervention brokered the peace between the League and the Confederation, with the condition of temporal distortion disarmament, she’s “Destroyer of Worlds,” an epithet that continues to haunt her.
Oh, and Ariane has a bit of a self-destructive streak, and a tiny little substance abuse problem.
Peacekeeper opens with Ariane and Matt back from a prospecting trip with a potentially lucrative claim. Plans to license that claim to various interested parties are put on hold while the Directorate of Intelligence re-activates Ariane to play spy-on-site for a treaty-mandated Terran inspection of one of CAW’s temporal distortion weapon staging posts, because of her prior experience with temporal distortion weapons—and because Intelligence suspects foul play is in the works, since someone’s been tracking down and killing everyone associated with Ariane’s world-destroying mission, and the base commander is on that list. Suspicions which seem justified when sabotage and murder claims the base commander’s life—and nearly kills Ariane, and the head of the Terran delegation, State Prince Isrid Sun Parmet, as well.
To make matters worse, the State Prince discovers Ariane’s former identity. There follows kidnapping, torture, and a complicated double-blackmail agreement with the Terrans which gives them access to a piece of the potentially-lucrative pie which Ariane and Matt prospected—but that’s not the climax. The climax is the unmasking of the assassin/saboteur, who turns out to have been more closely related to Ariane’s past than anyone realised.
I like Peacekeeper quite a lot, although it feels slow at times. Pathfinder is a natural sequel in the evolution of Ariane—which makes it a pity that Pathfinder is actually the third volume in this series, with the position of Number Two taken by Vigilante. It can’t be said that Vigilante is wholly forgettable. But its villains are disturbingly generic evil misogynist-isolationists, with a little bit of politicking and alien technology going on in the background. The villains here bore me, which makes the crisis (the theft and intended deployment of a temporal distortion weapon) and its resolution rather less than fascinating.
On the other hand, we get more interesting alien “Minoans” and a different alien technology. And in Pathfinder, in addition to purely human plots and political manoeuvring, it’s revealed that the “Minoans” need Ariane to do a job for them: pilot a course that they can’t, to retrieve an immensely dangerous database before unscrupulous humans can get their hands on it.
Also, there’s a war crimes trial going on in the background, and a plan to get the Autonomists and the Terrans back at war with each other, and basically the usual amount of things going on that happen when you have superpowers with complex internal politics operating in a relatively confined (for “space is pretty damn big” definitions of confined) space and forced to co-operate for local resources.
I like these books. I want there to be more of them—or, at least, more like them.
Space opera can be essentially fantasy in space, or rigorously underpinned with science. I don’t care, as long as it’s fun. But apart from the names of Lois McMaster Bujold, C.J. Cherryh, and Catharine Asaro (whose romantic subplots I find frequently dodgey, alas), I’m not sure I can name many more female authors prominent in the field. (A handful, sure. A drop in the bucket...) Why is this? Do women avoid writing space opera qua space opera, or do their names simply... disappear?
Or am I sitting at the bottom of a news hole, and there’re simply scads no one’s told me about?
Liz Bourke lives on an island dangled off the west side of Europe, wheres the winters are always wet and dark and the politicians are (almost) always fools. Living with approximately eight hours of daylight for three months of the year makes her even crankier than usual. Find her on Twitter @hawkwing_lb.