By Mel Melcer
Author: Mel Melcer
Publisher: Storm Publishing
- ISBN: 978-1805082781
- Published: November 2023
- Pages: 428
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 22/11/2023
- Language: English
Any story of colonial rescue, involving cryosleep spaceships and small crews operating to solve a crisis far from Earth has all the ingredients to be an exciting read. However, the way in which a writer organises these elements and makes them palatable as a story remains an issue at hand.
Refractions by Mel Melcer is an example of a new writer doing this well. In novels of this type, pace is essential, particularly when a reader is trying out their work for the first time. Start fast, fill in the details as you go, is a formula that works, particularly if the characters are knee deep in a crisis.
After an accident onboard ship, that causes the death of eight members of the crew, Pilot Nathalie Hart finds herself in command of the rescue mission to Bethesda. Her authority is tenuous at best, as she finds herself negotiating between different nationalist factions on the ship. Melcer lays out the future political context with Chinese technology being dominant against the envious expertise of the American space programme.
There is substantial worldbuilding here, delivered through the interactions of the characters and flashbacks to Nathalie’s old life before accepting this role. Essentially, the ship’s crew acts as a microcosm for the political context on Earth.
When we get into Act 2, the mystery deepens. Bethesda’s secrets are not going to be given up easily, and the mystery of how the colony met its end is slowly revealed. Hart is trying to lead tis investigation, keeping her people safe from the unknown threat of this new world and from each other. The factional minefield of command amidst national and religious tensions between different communities is beyond the ability of anyone to manage and eventually there is a collapse.
A highlight here is the exploration of the colony. The expeditions are careful and painstakingly managed. The use of cameras and instant communication provides the opportunity for everyone to witness new discoveries and consider them as part of the gathering dossier of evidence that something is very wrong with this new paradise.
A new revelation heralds the beginning of act three and this is perhaps the moment where the strength of the storytelling drops a little. Natalie Hart and her allies are caught up in a cleverly constructed conspiracy designed to render them psychologically and emotionally powerless. How this is resolved requires the adversaries to become a little less than what they have been built up to be. There is a sense that the writer got to this complex crisis and then had to think of a way out. That way out doesn’t quite satisfy the reader in the end.
Refractions is an excellent novel. Mel Melcer has found her genre and worked hard to establish a nuanced take on humanity’s future as a colonising species in interstellar space. There is a lot to like here, with projections that feel well thought out and rationalised. Often, the elements that are hinted at but not explored are all the more interesting. The story of Bethesda’s original colony is an intriguing one that lingers in the mind, as does the way in which Melcer’s future Earth has become a familiar and yet unfamiliar tapestry of conflict and competition between nations and corporations. It will be interesting to learn more.
Written on 22nd November 2023 by Allen Stroud .