Genre: Space Opera, Paranormal, Noir
Paperback: 162 pages
Publisher: Phoenix Pick
Publication Date: December 10, 2011
Author Website: Mercedes Lackey, Cody Martin
The Stellar Guild Series is a unique concept from re-publisher (is that a word?) Phoenix Pick that pairs up new authors with industry stalwarts to provide original fiction. The idea is to have well-known authors like Mercedes Lackey, Kevin J. Anderson, Robert Silverberg or Harry Turtledove pick a newbie writer to join them in writing a set of paired stories that are then edited by Mike Resnick. The best part of the notion is that readers know they will be getting a story be a favorite author (and hence are more willing to fork over the cost of the book) while also being introduced to a new writer whose style is akin to the more famous, bestselling name.
One of the first team-ups in this series is from Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin. Reboots is set in a world where vampires, werewolves, zombies and other paranormal beings have revealed their presence to normal humanity in order to take advantage of a space program where the long-lived creatures live in symbiosis while discovering new planets for humanity to colonize.
Cody Martin, handpicked by Lackey , who first met him and his writing in the MMORPG City of Heroes, provides the prequel novelette to Lackey’s novella. Martin’s story “Bad Moon Rising” is a tightly written tale of one of the exploratory ships populated by four vampires, a werewolf, and our protagonist, a zombie with intelligence. In these stories, zombies are known as Reboots, and are, on average, completely mindless. But on occasion, intelligence remains, as with Skinny Jim. In the odd symbiosis of the ship’s company, the “mission specialist” vampires (Fangs) suck the blood of Fred the werewolf, the ships’ engineer (a Fur) who is able to regenerate the lost blood quickly enough to prevent death. The reboots provide janitorial and other mundane services and are largely ignored. Of course, such a situation is ripe for turmoil, as Fred, who keeps them all “alive” is bullied and mistreated by the haughty vampires. Skinny Jim, sensing an opportunity, enlists Fred in a scheme that will end their interminable mission one way or another.
The wonderful story, a clever mixing of the paranormal and space opera subgenres, is a classic tale of espionage. From the outset, Martin, through deft use of self-deprecating humor, makes Skinny Jim a sympathetic protagonist who the reader desperately wants to “survive.” Martin’s writing is easygoing and comfortable, his characters well rounded and personable, and the story’s conceit both familiar and exciting. One can easily see why Lackey, who shares many similar writing traits, would pick Martin as an author to watch. I’d certainly like to see more stories from Martin, particularly in this same universe with a broader range of paranormal beings.
My only issue with the story is the ending, which is a ham-handed set up for Lackey’s subsequent novella that belies the quality of the rest of the story. If Martin had left it alone, and merely allowed the culminating events to unfold within Lackey’s story, his tale would have been superb in its own right. As it now stands, it cannot be read apart from Lackey’s tale, and is lessened for it.
However, Lackey’s novella “Just the Right Bullets” is a pleasing if digressive accompaniment. Lackey’s hardboiled noir mystery set in the same universe and involving some of the same characters expands Martin’s original notion beyond the three types of paranormals. In this story, a boggart private detective is commissioned by the government to track down a lost ship. From the outset, we know that the missing ship is Fred and Skinny Jim’s but though the reader knows the fate of that ship, Lackey is careful to expand its story beyond the culmination of Martin’s prequel and so there is still an element of whodunit mystery about it.
Unfortunately, there are several digressions and subplots within Lackey’s story that distract from the main tale because they are such obvious plot devices. For instance, the subplot of Claire, while humanizing the boggart, is merely a femme fatale add-on for the sake of adhering closely to Sam Spade and Humphrey Bogart/The Maltese Falcon type detective stories. While it does immerse the reader more deeply into the tone of the story, it is only tangentially related to main plot, and exists only for the femme fatale angle and to heighten the suspense. Neither of these things would necessarily be bad, but it is obvious what Lackey is doing and so the story’s framework is revealed; resulting in a story structure that supersedes the narrative.
Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the story, even if I did not feel this is one of Lackey’s best. Because Martin so convincingly immersed me into the universe and gave me characters to care about, Lackey’s story became a necessary read in order to find out just what happened to Skinny Jim and Fred. Though Lackey’s story could have been a bit tighter in style, its still had a good degree of suspense and action, and concludes Skinny Jim and Fred’s story in a way that is pleasing and satisfying. The boggart, too, is a interesting character, and the interplay of noir fiction with space opera is well-done and is something I’d like to read again.
For its conceit of pairing bestselling authors with newcomers Reboots is worth a read. However, Cody Martin’s deftly crafted and funny tale (save for the ending) is a worthy read in its own right, and fans of paranormal detective stories or detective fiction/sci-fi pairings will enjoy the Lackey piece. I enjoyed both stories quite a bit despite their limitations.