One of the significant differences between science fiction and realist fiction is the sense that the possibilities of sf are so much grander. Genre writers taking advantage of the four dimensions as a playground for fiction in a variety of ways, from the temporal extents of Olaf Stapledon’s works to the microworlds of Madeline D’Engle, no sub-genre, however, may utilize the possibilities more than space opera. Arguably the core of science fiction, it’s been in existence almost since the beginning, and there are no signs of its disappearance anytime soon. Carrying the torch in the 21 st century is Ian Whates’ Pelquin’s Comet (2015, NewCon Press).
Knowing that a major stash of alien artifacts lies unclaimed, Pelquin, Captain of the freebooter Pelquin’s Comet, heads to the major financial center of New Sparta to find a sponsor in order to make a run at the loot. An Elder artifact in hand, he succeeds in convincing one of the credit officers to extend a line of cash his way, but not without a compromise. Forced to take on a representative of the bank (the mysterious alien toting Drake), Pelquin reluctantly agrees to the terms and sets his small crew to gearing up the ship for the trip. Exiting New Sparta, however, a surprise attack occurs. With projectiles flying the Comet gets off the ground, but not without its chief mechanic Monkey getting badly injured. And he’s needed. The jump into RzSpace going smoothly, once inside the other dimension, however, a problem occurs with the motors, an emergency landing needed. Babylon the closest planet, it’s there the Comet heads and the Captain’s plans for an easy loot grab really start to spiral out of control.
Pelquin’s Comet has something of a George Lucas feel to it. Not necessarily the galactic sweep of Star Wars, more like the “Adventures of Han Solo,” it’s the story of one man’s plan to cash in big on alien artifacts, his likeable crew, an enigmatic bank man, and the bad guys who want the profits for themselves—intrigue, space ships, and planetary adventure flying all around them. The Captain quick on his head-feet and equally quick with his gun, he makes a good parallel to Han Solo, and with bad luck plaguing his ship’s mechanical state, Pelquin’s Comet occupies a role similar to the Millenium Falcon. Trader and sometimes smuggler, he and the crew find themselves caught up in drama they’d rather not getting to the bottom of who attacked them on New Sparta, and just why the bank needed Drake aboard. The dark-eyed Valyn de Souza forever lurking in the shadows, the series opens in exciting style.
Whates does a good job playing out the lines of suspense while steadily revealing significant plot points, keeping things character-focused, and mixing in bits of action to propel the narrative as a whole. From the attack to the subsequent adventures of Pelquin, the exotic planets to the exciting climax, the book scratches that rainy day space opera itch.
With the freetraders of Anre Norton’s Solar Queen series and George Lucas’ Star Wars applauding on the wings, Pelquin’s Comet wears its genre affiliation proudly on its sleeve. Light entertainment, it’s a fast, fun read that will appeal to fans of either Norton or Lucas, as well as Peter Hamilton, Eric Brown, Keith Brooke, Brian Stableford, John Brunner, and the other British writers who have dipped their pens into the well of space opera—perhaps the vastest science fiction has to offer.