System, we have a problem
I first became aware of Stephen Case’s writing when he submitted a short story to Farstrider for our premier issue. His witty dialogue, quick pacing, and wild imagination on display in his story, “Three Strings” marked him as a writer to watch. Naturally, when he asked me to read and review his novel, First Fleet, it didn’t take a lot of convincing.
Published by Retrofit Publishing, First Fleet is actually a collection of serialized novellas (the first of which can be read for free here). Case has described the book as a cross between “Battlestar Galactica” and the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. This is almost exactly spot-on, but I actually think he is selling himself a little short here. While First Fleet may share some of the action/adventure vibes (and even some of the social commentary) from “Battlestar,” Case’s novel features some original technological inventions that are more clever than anything in “Battlestar” than I can recall.
Literally first and foremost (they are introduced in the book’s opening paragraph) are the res-pods. The world of First Fleet sees humanity spread across the stars, but they didn’t get to where they are without a fight. Fortunately for the soldiers on the ground (or, you know, in space), they are able to upload their memories for safe keeping before entering combat. That way, should they be killed, their body (or what’s left of it) gets shuttled away to safety by a res-pod, which then gets to work on healing the injuries sustained or even regrowing a complete body from even a small DNA sample. Once the body is fully regenerated, the soldier’s memories can be downloaded in the new body before being sent back out into the fray. Case explores some of the interesting ways that society would change with a technology like this being available. Soldiers, for example, don’t have the same sense of mortality that they might otherwise if the res-pods were not available to them.
Case’s imagination doesn’t stop there, but it would spoil much of the fun to mention any more specifics about the world he has created. The world-building in First Fleet is truly top-notch. As he moves the story along, Case expertly peels back new layers of the world, fleshing out his universe little by little and answering questions that you didn’t even know you had.
A novel can’t exist on world-building alone, however. It needs strong characters to make the journey complete. Fortunately, Case excels at this. Protagonists Beka Grale and Cam Dowager are just awesome. Beka is especially fun to watch as the novel progresses and she reminds us that sometimes leaders emerge from the unlikeliest of places. I would definitely want them both on my team if I happened to find myself in a space battle against Lovecraftian horrors.
Between the world-building and the likeable cast of characters, we are left with a rich and complex fictional world by the time we reach the end of the story. I enjoyed my time in this world so much, in fact, that I hope we will get to revisit it sometime in another book. I have no idea if this is in the cards at all, but here’s hoping that Case is busily working on Second Fleet already!
If you like good science fiction with strong female protagonists and don't mind being creeped out by what might be lurking in the dark, chances are you will dig this book.
I give this one five out of five res-pods. Read it!
And when you're done, keep an eye out for Case's "Three Strings" in the premier issue of Farstrider, coming in January!
Buy the book
Want to buy a copy? Here is the Amazon link. Enjoy!