By Christopher Hinz
- Starship Alchemon
Author: Christopher Hinz
- Publisher: Angry Robot Books
- ISBN: 9780857668172
- Published: November 2019
- Pages: 350
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 19/05/2020
- Language: English
Having read more than a few Starship loads of science fiction in my time I am particular about what type of aliens I like. I have a fondness for the Star Trek tactic of gluing some plasticine to the forehead of a humanoid but in today’s fiction I like something truly alien. What does that mean? Something that is unlike anything we have on Earth, or at least closer to the things that dwell at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The alien found in Starship Alchemon is very different and it effects the ship in new and interesting ways. This is not to even mention the crew.
Far from Earth an AI ship travels towards a planet that should have little of interest upon it. Despite the ship being able to run mainly on its own there is a skeleton crew that includes gifted Psionic LeaMarsa de Host. All runs smoothly until they discover an antient orb that seems alien in nature and contains what could be the first signs of intelligent life that is not human. Perhaps events could have unfolded differently but the interaction between the alien orb and various crew members leads to unforeseen circumstances.
There is a tricky balance that Christopher Hinz aims to pull off in Alchemon as the book is not only a first contact novel between alien and human, but also alien, human and ship. The three separate elements all have their own agendas and Hinz must make sure that they all bounce off one another and still make sense. Not an author to make things simple, Hinz also throws in crew members that have strong psionic powers and those that are susceptible to them. At times there is a lot going on and the concepts can rub against one another, but when the book gets them right, you have some top twists in the action.
With several complex theories in the book, this is the type of story for hard science fiction fans. It has science and mysteries to reveal and you must have your wits about you to get the most from the experience. That is not to say that the book is not approachable for more action-based fans, the sections between alien concepts are action packed.
Parts of Alchemon take on a disaster movie in space feel. The different crew react to the alien artefact in unique ways. The other player is the ship itself. It is not tasked with saving the crew but protecting the best interests of the company. Crew and ship are not always in alignment and this is not a helpful situation when you are trying to understand a bizarre alien attack.
With its many ideas, Alchemon takes a little while to warm up but once it does you have some good action sequences that are full of suspense. You never really know which of the characters will survive. One sequence set outside of the ship is an alien versus ship versus human Mexican standoff that really gets the pages turning.
Alchemon may find itself sitting a little bit between two stools. It is hard science fiction on one side and action on the other. Fans of either subgenre may be put off by the other element. I found that the action suited me best and I really enjoyed the battles upon the ship itself. The high-minded concepts were a little lost on me in places, but a more cerebral reader may attach themselves to them. Either way, there is still enough in Starship Alchemon to make it a quality read for any science fiction fan.
Written on 19th May 2020 by Sam Tyler .