Tales of exploration among the stars, discovering strange new worlds and old threats are certainly nothing new. They are a cornerstone in the space opera subgenre after all, and some of the most influential franchises have been built upon that theme. However, overdone as it often is, there are rare books that prove capable of putting a new spin on old ideas, such as today’s example: Starbound.
Set several years after the first book of the Lightship Chronicles ended in fire, Starbound follows up on the story of Peter Cochrane. Now serving as a third officer on a new lightship, he has returned to assisting the Federation’s efforts to reunite humanity. However, when a relic of a lost age emerges on their ship’s sensors, spectres of the past soon come back to haunt him…
The book retains many core strengths, which ultimately made the first one great, blending together many traditional sci-fi tropes while putting a new spin on them. In this case, it moves away from Star Trek somewhat and more towards a few ray gun gothic themes, especially in terms of the main villain and shadow games, with figures scheming behind closed doors. It’s very Dan Dare-esque in the best way, tempering in inherent cheesiness of some of those influences while retaining their essential charm. It certainly helps from this angle that there’s far more action to be had this time around, and events play out on a much grander scale than before. Starbound ultimately presents a deep, complex and engaging universe, but it never forgets to have some old fashioned fun once in a while.
A further development, and a definite improvement over the past book, is the characters themselves. While still carrying out the traditional tropes and roles, Cochrane, Wesley and the crew have more of a human edge to their actions, and seem less like archetypes than true characters.
Unfortunately, a few flaws do remain here despite all of this. Bara’s writing style still seems to skimp on details and descriptions, meaning it’s a light read but can seem insubstantial at times. While it tackles big ideas, there’s few times where the worlds truly seem alien, and it can be difficult to get into the sense of mystery. Furthermore, the characters perform some rather head-scratching actions at times, for the sake of the plot rather than real sense. This was true of Impulse as well, but it’s far more evident here, especially towards the end.
Whatever its problems, Starbound nevertheless remains solidly entertaining and an engaging read. Space opera fans should most definitely give this one a look.
STARBOUND: LIGHTSHIP CHRONICLES, BOOK TWO / AUTHOR: DAVE BARA / PUBLISHER: DEL RAY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW