by David Drake
Cover Artist: Dominic Harman
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Baen Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781481482509
Date: 06 June 2017 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The Empress of the Earth is one of the largest passenger liners traveling between the worlds in the 23rd century. Run by one of the most powerful companies supported by the might of Earth, the Empress seems to be a safe haven. If there is a problem between systems, the ship will bypass the system until things calm down.
Lieutenant Ran Coville is on his first run with the Empress. The voyage starts off without issues, but the rising tensions between Grantholm and Nevasa has people on edge. The fear that one of the two worlds will attempt to seize the Empress is great. Fortunately, the ship's crew is alert and on top of things but sometimes the unexpected happens, and Ran is a magnet for the unusual.
Passenger crew are separated into different command structures. There is a command crew, staff side, and cold crew. Each plays an important role in the operation of the ship and keeping the passengers happy. Ran has risen from the cold crew, who work outside the ship in the abyss of space, to the side crew making sure the passengers have what they need. This would seem like an easier job, but you never know what situations might arise.
This is a classic space opera. The setting of a galactic luxury liner allows for the characters to move into and out of danger. The dynamics of interstellar war are such that time and capacity to carry are very important. The struggle between planets and neutral parties is seen in classic literature as well as science fiction, the scale is just greater.
Ran Coville is also a classic archetype, roguish wildcat officer. He has climbed through the ranks and is enjoying his new position. He also has the James T. Kirk charm and looks to seduce and be seduced by women in many situations. As in Star Trek, the love scenes are left to the reader's imagination. Ran also grows through the course of his first round trip. He grows as both an officer and as a person developing friends and respect among the crew and passengers.
Originally published in 1992, the action and story hold up pretty well. The technology described hasn't been overtaken as happens when some classic SF is republished. It is a standalone novel and as such does not require knowledge of a much larger universe. David Drake has been writing solid adventure science fiction for decades. This is a good novel for classic SF fans both new and old. Fans of Travis Taylor, David Brin, and Larry Niven will find a lot here to like.