The Lost Starship
By Vaughn Heppner
Published by Audible Frontiers
Read by David Stifel
This is the first book by Vaughn Heppner I have read. It’s not bad, but it reads like an author’s first book. I’m not sure if this was his first, but it feels like it ought to be. First let me give praise where it is due, however.
The story starts out well with a good solid action scene that introduces us to the main character, Captain Maddox, who may or may not be more than he seems. He is a member of Star Watch Intelligence and his first job to which we are observers is to get into a duel with a spoiled local brat, who has had some sort of enhancement therapy that makes it an unfair fight with most of his opponents. Well, it’s not much of a spoiler, but one thing leads to another and the rich brat is killed. Maddox’s assistant is sent to a prison planet and Maddox is being chased by assassins hired by the brat’s rich daddy.
If any of that was necessary to Maddox’s story, it is not made clear in this particular book. There are less convoluted means to push the story, but maybe that gets explained later in the series. Supposedly he needs to be a fugitive to give him an excuse to go looking for the last battleship of a long-dead space-faring race without being followed by the real bad guys of the series, the New Men.
The New Men are genetically superior humans who represent what might eventually be a new species of human (but since they can breed with normal humans, they are not yet a separate species. Don’t believe me? Try looking up the scientific definition of species – part of that includes no breeding between populations (or if there is breeding, non-fertile mules are the result) After that w=you can try looking up the difference between a Theory and a Hypothesis for the next time some nitwit say something is only a theory and thus has no proof… Sorry about that; it’s a sore spot for me.
Anyway, these New Men appear to be genetically superior to the mainstream population of Earth and its surrounding stellar systems and come from somewhere in the “Beyond” which is out past the boundaries of the united worlds collective Maddox is part of. Worse, they are amazingly arrogant and conceited and also bent on conquering (and probably destroying) all lesser humans. Why is not certain. One could look at empires of the past and how they expanded by conquest, but when you think about it, they could only expand by conquest. The situation we see in this book suggested there are plenty of stellar systems into which the New Men can expand without bothering to wage war. It seems foolishly wasteful to fight space battles when there are world out there for the taking. Perhaps they have religious reasons for what they are doing, it does sound more like a crusade than a necessary war of conquest.
Then there is the dysfunctional crew he puts together. Sorry, while I thought they were all pretty good characters, I could not see them being able to work together. In fact, for the most part they don’t. What we have, however is a set of clichés. There’s the alcoholic who is the best pilot in the galaxy that Maddox has to turn around. Then we have the inflexible, stick-to-the-regulations lieutenant, the anti-social super arrogant, super-genius scientist, the engineer who comes from a high-gravity world so we get the muscle-man (although in this case it’s a woman, and the engineer in the same character) and, finally, the old sergeant who backs up Maddox at all times while muttering that he’s getting too old for this. Of them all, the sergeant is the only one I would choose for a team (and that includes Maddox who is a classic lone wolf if I ever saw one.)
I also got a bit confused by the author’s grasp of military titles. At the end of the book some of the characters are promotions but at least one goes from a navy rank to an army or marine rank. Since there was nothing before that point to indicate how ranks work in the Star Watch I sort of assumed the sergeant was a marine of some sort and the others had naval ranks, but perhaps the Star Watch has a hodgepodge of ranks and next book someone will be promoted to centurion.
In any case, if you put aside the weaknesses, I think this is a solid space opera and in spite of my complaints, I did enjoy the story. If only it hadn’t just stopped without resolving any of my big questions about how the world works there and just who Maddox was.
I have also never listened to David Stifel before, but I have no complaints. before, but I have no complaints. He did a fairly solid job and while he did vary his voice more than many readers might have, he was consistent and never quite ranged into the realm of funny voices.
I use the term “funny voices” a lot and I suppose I really ought to define it even though to me it seems obvious. Quite a few professional readers, understanding that a good performance means that each character’s voice is clearly delineated from the others will include funny-sounding voices (some that would be considered over the top in a cartoon) whether to be by making them high and squeaky or low and rumbling or just so hoarse you ache to hand the poor fellow a throat lozenge. Most non-professionals prefer to simply read, rather than perform a book, which is a good choice if you are not an actor, but sometimes an actor just cannot help but go above and beyond any normal-sounding human voice. Now a reader can go too far when failing to vary a voice too, but in my experience, most of the time when I have trouble distinguishing characters it is because the author failed to give those characters different speech mannerisms.
In any case, Mister Stifel does a fairly good job reading the story which, while it does have its faults is still a solid adventure story. Hopefully, this series improves as it goes along.