by Wen Spencer
Cover Artist: Kurt Miller
Review by Sam Lubell
Baen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781416573852
Date: 04 December 2007 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
At first glance, Wen Spencer's Endless Blue may seem the print equivalent of a popcorn movie -- fast-paced and fun to read. But this is one book that can't be judged by its rather garish cover, as the characters struggle with self doubt and moral issues over what it means to be human. Spencer has included some romantic elements as well but in ways that complement the main action.
When the wormhole space drive of a long-missing ship is found, embedded with coral, attached to a fishing boat named for a recently vanished space ship, space captain Mikhail Ivanovich, clone of the Russian czar, is taken away from humanity's losing battle against the nefrim in order to find out what is happening to the missing ships. His crew includes a group of Reds, enslaved bioengineered humans with extra strength and speed plus some of the behavior patterns of cats. But some newly acquired Reds, going beyond the usual dominance games, attempt to murder Turk, Mikhail's Red commander and adopted brother, by sending him out of the ship just as it crashes into a strange planet with floating islands.
On the planet Sargasso's surface, former translator Paige Bailey, now a captain of a family trading boat (the sailing-in-water kind) rescues Turk from aliens; but her boat is heavily damaged. Soon, she starts a relationship with Turk. Meanwhile, Mikhail encounters a female Red, who should not exist, and enlists her as a guide. Eventually, Turk and Paige reunite with Mikhail and his crew, only to learn that humanity's alien enemies are also on Sargasso, strangely changed. They determine that something on the planet is affecting the nefrim and can save humanity if they can find it and somehow escape this outer-space Bermuda Triangle.
What makes the book more than just another space adventure is the added moral conflicts. Turk is shocked to learn that Paige actually is descended from a mix of human, Red, and Blue (a different type of genetically modified human) ancestors while still thinking of herself as fully human. And this raises the question in his mind as to whether, perhaps, being a Red might not make him a non-human. Mikhail has his own struggle. Being a less accomplished son of the ruler of the Novaya Rus Empire, and the clone of an even greater ruler, has given him a massive inferiority complex that frequently leads him to indecision. He has always relied on his brother to share his strength and talk him out of depression. The enforced separation from Turk forces Mikhail to grow out of this dependence. And both Turk and Paige have to decide which of them will leave his or her family and society to be with the other.
While the romance between Turk and Paige is a major part of the book, the author chose not to entangle Mikhail -- who as captain would be the male lead in most similar space-adventure romances -- in more than hints. Instead, through a rather sizable coincidence, Spencer manages to give him family issues even far away from the Novaya Rus Empire.
Endless Blue is a thinking person's space action-adventure novel. There is plenty of action and excitement. But there are also real characters facing real issues that go beyond who is trying to kill them that day. Readers who are getting tired of the standard-formula space adventure should give this one a try, and even those who do not normally go for books with covers of hairy monsters attacking will find aspects of this book worth their time.