A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe


Alex White


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

November 7, 2020

Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is actually a fantasy story. This threw me at first - given the cover of the book and the title of the novel, I assumed I had picked up a science fiction story. But right from the first chapter, when the reader is introduced to Nilah, the race car driver, and her "magic belching" sportscar, we learn that everything is powered by spells. It is a weird combination at first - the traditional SF tropes are here - space ships and jump gates and blaster guns - but the space ships are powered by magic, the blasters are enabled with glyphs, etc. Eventually, the magic becomes unnoticeable, does it really matter in the end if the ship's shields are powered by spells or dilithium crystals? Our heroes hack into the control of robots and electronics - the fact that they do so with magic rather than writing code ultimately is not that important.

The tale is about a group of misfits and has-beens who stumble upon a galaxy wide conspiracy. These odd-balls make up the crew of the battered old warship Capricious, and of course no one will believe their discoveries, because the villains have corrupted all the forces of law and justice in the galaxy. At the heart of the conspiracy is a missing spaceship with tremendous magical powers - the legendary Harrow. The heroine of the tales is Boots, a former fighter pilot who now gets by selling treasure maps to salvage crews. Boots just might have the ghost of a clue where the Harrow might be hiding. Most of Boots' treasure maps are outright fabrications, but in this case, there may be a sliver of truth in what she is selling. When Boots sells a Harrow-related clue to a race car driver, it arouses the deadly interest of a powerful assassin named (for reasons unexplained) Mother. Mother is soon on the trail to snuff out anyone who might be involved locating the "mythical" Harrow.

The second heroine is Nilah, a wealthy race car driver. She wears the arm bands that display her current emotions as colors. (When I was young, there was a craze for something called mood-rings, which were supposed to change colored based upon your temperature, the theory was that temperature was related to emotion. Whatever happened to mood rings? They went the way of the pet rock). Nilah is ultra-competent at wielding magic. She can interface to machines and fix them with glyphs, or command them with other spells. Nilah happens to witness Mother's murderous assault upon a fellow race car driver, so now Mother is after Nilah. One thing leads to another, and soon Boots and Nilah are on the ship Capricious, and high tailing it to distant parts of the galaxy, with Mother tracking them magically.

Overall, I found this story interesting enough, the scenes exploring a secret, booby-trapped base are pretty fun. There is adventure and mystery. But to keep tension growing, White adds longer and longer odds for our heroes to face. It became harder and harder to believe that our plucky band of heroes could over come such tremendous forces arrayed against them. For example, the first encounter with a springfly assassin-robot is tense and exciting. But later, Nilah single-handedly defeats a swarm of springflies, it's just not believable, and thus not exciting. Boots is an ace fighter pilot, but (presumably) so are the pilots in the opposing ships, so how likely is that Boots can win against overwhelming odds? Being more talented than everyone else in the galaxy is unlikely. (Why do so many space battles involve fighters? The speeds and distances in outer space are so vast that it would be impossible to even glimpse your opponent. Wouldn't AI drones, powered by hyperspeed ballistics and energy beams, be so much more lethal than a human controlled craft?) So, although the book was fun to read, I didn't find it compelling. I doubt I will pick up the remaining two books in this trilogy.