Today I bring you some Science Fiction; Outpost by W. Michael Gear is book 1 of the Donovan Trilogy. I have some mixed feelings as I read/listened to it and as I write this. I’m glad I don’t rate books because this one would be tough. Let’s just jump into A rundown of the synopsis. In the future humans live in a corporate run solar system, but this book takes place on a colonized far-off alien world named Donovan. Unfortunately, after around 23 years after humans set foot here, starships have been vanishing after going there. This left colonists alone to create their own society where our main protagonist Talina Perez is one of the leaders. Seven years after the first ship vanished A corporate vessel has finally made it there again; only to find a colony that is supposed to have their rigid rules and regulations along with the corporate supervisor all gone. This vessel is led by corporate Supervisor Kalico Aguila, a up and comer in the corporate world. The ship also has a Captain of the Marines Max Taggert. There’s another major player too, but we will get there. I will however quote the final paragraph of the synopsis that hooked me into giving this one a try along with the cool cover you see above.
“Just as matters spiral out of control, a ghost ship, the Freelander, appears in orbit. Missing for two years, she arrives with a crew dead of old age, and reeks of a bizarre death-cult ritual that deters any ship from attempting a return journey. And in the meantime, a brutal killer is stalking all of them, for Donovan plays its own complex and deadly game. The secrets of which are hidden in Talina Perez’s very blood.”
So, here I go to do my best in dissecting how I feel about this book. What Gear does brilliantly is create a new alien planet with its own unique biome. This planet is very predatory. Humans are not at the top of this world even being there for around thirty years already. They still have much to learn even by the end of this book. Gear makes this planet feel alien and unique. We also get a great sense of how the main earth solar system operates as well even though we never go there. It’s kind of like a corporate run resource-based economy, but people do earn credits. Though people have no understanding of property ownership outside of Donovan now. No poverty or hunger, but a corporation decides on work contracts and how resources are dispersed. World/universe building is top notch.
Long range space travel is also quite fascinating. In Gear’s universe long range vessels must rely on artificial intelligence to invert space. The issue is that no one knows where the vessel actually goes when this happens and there’s a 20% chance the ship may never be heard from again. The fact this dropped to 100% chance going to Donovan for 7 years until Kalico’s ship arrives is of great concern. It was assumed the ships would be at Donovan taken over by a hostile colony force, but alas that is not the case. Those ships are just missing. The colonists welcome Kalico and Max with no violence.
There are two big mysteries that are the most interesting throughout and unfortunately didn’t give me enough in this book. There’s an alien creature on the planet that seems animal like but displays higher cognitive functions. It also seems to be able to bond with humans in a way and they decide what humans they kill or leave alone; mysterious. We also have a ship that was only missing for 6 months show up with a crew that died long ago of old age and created a death cult on board. These mysteries are why I stuck through this story until the end but left unsatisfied. I need more investigation into these mysteries if you wish to sink the hooks into me, so I pick up book 2 right away. I may someday, but not anytime soon.
The characters have interesting and strong personalities. I think Kalico and Talina were the best from start to finish. Max has quite the journey that felt pretty straightforward but made sense. Now my least favorite character PoV is Dan Wirth. This guy is a textbook archetype psychopath. He is a boring character who talks crudely of women. He’s a misogynist looking to manipulate people to become powerful on this new frontier. Dan is also not good at even hiding this for long stretches of time. He will tell you how great he is, but it is not shown. He exposes himself quite easily. Dan brings frustration to the story, but nothing interesting. What he does bring is a lot of obnoxious language and crude thoughts. He works hard to makes manipulative plans others can see through, but that no one tries hard to stop. Couldn’t stand his PoVs. There are other characters in the series that are interesting which does help deal with having Dan round, but he gets far too much page time.
This brings me to another huge distraction in the book. Grown adults on a hostile planet trying to kill them and a ghost ship above the planet, but there’s constant reminder of how sexual attractive other characters are to them. Men and women alike need to take some cold showers in this book. I don’t need a constant reminder of sexually desirable characteristics all the time. I don’t have an issue with sex and hormones in books, but it sometimes felt like it was written from the perspective of a horny high schooler. Show sexual interest through flirtation and actions instead of constant thoughts of sexual appeal of others. Gear does this at other times as well; tells instead of shows. His prose is way above average for a science fiction book, just not always used to enhance the readers experience. I do want to give a shout out to the Audible narrator, Alyssa Bresnahan . She was brilliant.
Overall, the world building, science, and mysteries are captivating. Seeing humans work hard to survive on the frontier of space travel is always interesting. The story just gets bogged down with less interesting nonsense and PoV. I just want to know more about this planet Donovan and what is happening when ships invert space in this system. What we have is a quintessential mixed bag of a story in my opinion.