Book Review: Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt

I just finished reading Darkship Thieves, and my first thought was: Excellent! It’s the first of a series!

The only thing better than reading a good book is discovering there are others like it lined up in a nice, neat row.

Hoyt’s feisty main character gets to be tougher than nails…but also displays the doubts and insecurities of a nineteen-year-old torn from everything she has ever known.

Three centuries ago, human society was blown apart by bio-engineering gone horribly wrong. The failed experiment casts a long shadow, catching up in its net two vastly different people from vastly different worlds.

Patrician Athena Hera Sinistra is a human from Earth–and a survivor. Wakened from sound sleep by the survival instinct that served her well in reformatories and insane asylums, Thena outfights, outwits, and outruns her father’s goons, bent on mutiny while returning to Earth.

Problem is, she gets stuck in a drifting lifepod with nowhere to run to…except for the ship of bio-engineered Christopher Klaavik, engaged in the illegal harvesting of pods from the semi-organic powertrees that provide Earth with a renewable source of energy. Problem is, Kit works on behalf of Eden, the mythic haven of the renegade refugees from Earth’s long-ago genetic cleansing.

Reared from infancy to hate and fear each other on sight, Athena and Kit discover a growing mutual respect and attraction displacing ingrained prejudices.

But they can’t outrun their pasts, or the plots in which they are only pawns.

I like character-driven stories, and Hoyt delivered there. But I also enjoyed her world-building, where societal norms are driven by tyranny, libertarianism, self-interest…and in the end, the human heart.

Darkship Thieves is the kind of book I like to enjoy with a pot of tea and home-made biscotti for a thoroughly enjoyable evening escape.


Forge Snippet

Beaten and starved, Tazhret wonders if a visitor to his contract-owner’s farmhold is a reason to hope:

At dawnstrike, the Scotian traveler strode down the steps, right past Tazhret without a pause on his way into the barn. By little dawn, he had his team out in the yard and hitched to the wagon. Tazhret kept his head down, but his gaze followed the traveler, who worked with the ease of long practice. His team pushed their heads into his hands for a welcoming scratch, and he patted their smooth, gleaming coats.

Hope spoke. He cares well for his horses, at least. Fear snarled along the back of Tazhret’s mind. He wouldn’t be the first Scotian who cared more for horses than izzies.

Book Review: Far Orbit Anthology, Bascomb James, editor

Well, that was fun!

Late this afternoon, I bought Far Orbit, an anthology of “Speculative Space Adventures,” edited by Bascomb James, to keep me company over the three-day Labor Day Weekend. Short stories, after all. Easy to put down and pick up again. Now what? Because I just finished it, swallowing it in almost one sitting (there was that pesky interruption of dinner).

Thirteen short stories, and not a clinker in the bunch. The book begins with an open letter from Elizabeth Bear to SF, reminding the genre that it’s okay to have a sense of humor, to “…have a little pleasure again.” And then the rest of the book goes on to prove just how good that can be.

The collection encompasses hard science to space opera, and it’s hard for me to choose a favorite. They all have memorable–some are downright sticky–characters. “Open for Business” by Sam S. Kepfield–a lawyer’s eye-view of the risks and rewards of private space ventures–is a strong opener. Along the way we encounter an assassin-cellist; a lost-in-time Space Command Commander who learns the fine art of Southern Barbecue; and dumb bunnies who get an unexpected evolutionary assist. Julie C. Frost contributed “Bear Essentials,” continuing the saga of Captain Fisk, his grown daughter, their small crew, and their marginally profitable freighter…and an intelligent bear destined for godhood and sacrifice. (It was Frost’s “Illegal Beagles” that prompted me to buy the anthology.)

Editor Bascomb James provides insightful and articulate introductions to the stories, celebrating their place in the best traditions of SF. And when I put the book down, I was struck by how all of them captured the one thing that seems in such short supply today: Hope. 

The only problem I had with Far Orbit is that they were all short stories. In general, I agree with CS Lewis’s sentiments: “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.” But I’ll make an exception for a short story collection of this caliber.

Six Lines from Forge

The hero is having a Very Bad Day:

The cuff snicked open, revealing a gleaming yellow servband, two inches wide, embedded in his flesh. It itched. His stomach heaved. He tasted sour vomit, but he’d already emptied his abused belly into the holding cell’s toilet and had nothing left to retch. The servband reduced him to indentured servitude for a term of seven years. And he didn’t know why.

What did I do? But not even the beautiful woman had an answer.

Seven Lines from Page Seven WIP

From my current work-in-progress, Web of Destiny:

Nica Adair: “If I’d struck just a little harder and truer, Guaire Hunter would’ve died on my challenge knife six weeks ago. Instead, he commands the Royal Scotian Navy task force in the skies of Forge, while I cower in a hole in the ground. Clan Adair has a duty to defend this planet—the Realm!—from the enemy. I have pledged my life to the purpose of Keir’s rescue.” She reclaimed her hands and glared at Rory. “I would further both aims if I finished what I started and sheathed my challenge knife in Hunter’s black heart.”

Finally feeling like I’ve broken through the ice dam on this one…

On the Wings of Dragons

I think I was in late grade school or early high school when I first read Dragon Riders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. My eldest sister handed it to me, saying, “I think you’ll like this.” And just like that, I was hooked, catching up with ones already published, waiting for the next one out. Swallowing up The Ship Who Sang in one sitting…

McCaffrey stood out from the other SF authors I first read because of the way she integrated music into her stories. Sometimes as the stage setting, sometimes, as in the Harper Hall Trilogy, taking front and center. To this day, I still think about Menolly and her struggle to become a harper. Music is a vital part of my life, and her work resonated with me. (It holds true for me as a writer, as well. In my first book, Forge, the hero saves himself from death-by-trash-recycling by singing raucously–and drunkenly–enough to be heard by the tech who was about to hit the waste-processing button. You can read the first three chapters here.)

In celebration of Anne McCaffrey’s birthday–and her love of music–here is one of the filk tunes from the Masterharper of Pern CD.

Care to share your first memory of reading McCaffrey, or perhaps meeting her at a con? Please leave a comment!



Fables and Universal Truths

“Fable is more historical than fact, because fact tells us about one man and fable tells us about a million men.” – GK Chesterton

The father of a friend of mine never read fiction. Fiction “wasn’t true,” and therefore a “waste of time.” Too bad he never heard Chesterton’s quote. GK was onto something. Jung’s version was “the most personal is the most universal.” And this is the truth that drives good fiction.

Now, I’m not saying all fiction is created equal. There’s quite a lot of dreck that is a complete waste of time. But…I love the stories where heroes rise up in defense of the good, the true, the honorable; where love, sacrifice, and courage matter.

In our daily rounds of facts, seldom do we notice how one life well-lived makes a positive difference in the lives of others; in the life of the world. Biographies give us the example of a great person. But we can easily excuse ourselves from being a Washington, a Lincoln, a Gandhi…a Jesus. Or we can console ourselves, that at least we are not Stalin, Pol Pot, or Hitler. But the fluidity of fiction invites us to identify with the hero. Fiction gives us a chance to see the truths within us. Good fiction celebrates the power of the human spirit. Looking into the mirror of fiction, we see not only the best (and sometimes the worst) of ourselves–but of humankind.

Or, as another good friend has said: “You may not like it, but you’re an awful lot like me.”

Rites of Spring Blog Hop

Hello SF/SFR fans, and welcome to my stop on the Rites of Spring Blog Hop! Instructions for the giveaway are at the end of the post.

Here in cyberspace, the harbingers of the season aren’t the greening of the grass, the warming of the winds, or lengthening days borne in on the wings of returning birds. Instead, we offer you the opportunity to load your e-reader (or your nightstand) with books you’ll want to curl up with during the last chilly nights–and take to the beach on the first warm days.

If you like epic SF, with a dash of the Celtic, and a story where love matters…then “FORGE: Book I of the Thrall Web Series” is your kind of book. Think “Jason Bourne meets Braveheart in space.” Now add dark scary bad guys….

The Khevox are race of amoral psychic predators who fuel their powers with the life energy of slaves harnessed to their masters’ will by the thrall web, etched into their skin in a brutal rite of binding.

The psychically gifted humans of the Scotian Realm, warned by their high king’s vision, have been expecting the arrival of an enemy who will enslave them, body and soul. While they don’t know the identity of the enemy, they know their only hope of victory is an alliance among the three peoples, Scotians in partnership with the wary and distrustful reptilian Xerni and Tormin amphibs of the neighboring star domains.

No one recognizes the enemy already walks among them. No one dreams the fate of the three peoples is tied to the destiny of a man unjustly trapped in the chains of an indentured servant–an izzy.

Keir, found naked and crashed out, is an unidentifiable and mindblind amnesiac known only as “Tazhret”–“Nameless” in the Tormin tongue. Sentenced to servitude, he survives on scraps of kindness from his master’s mate–and clings to the vision of a woman with nut-brown hair, who insists he has a good name.

In the snippet I’ve chosen for this event, this is Keir’s first flesh-and-blood encounter with the woman who has haunted his dreams for two years; the woman who has just healed him, and dragged him from the edge of death…


   Black and total. The darkness of a sunless cavern deep in the bowels of the earth where Scotian demons cavorted with the Te, dark gods of the Xerni, toying with their mortal victims. [Keir] struggled against rock from the devil’s furnace. Crushed, cut, seared, pinned helpless. Dirt gritted in his mouth and nose, filled his lungs, and choked him. In an agony of effort, he clawed the burning rock, fought for every breath. But the rock was impervious, and the weight grew heavier. His body melded into the earth, while the demons laughed in the dark.
   A spark danced across his vision, breaking the black. Flaring brighter, it moved over him and freed him from the fiery, entombing dark. A voice, unrecognized yet familiar, insisted he leave the clutching shadows behind and join her in the light. His stumbling steps grew more confident, and he followed the voice down a long road from the darkness.
   He opened his eyes.
   I’m either dreaming, or I’m dead. The muzzy-headed thought held no particular terror for him. Wherever he was, she was there—nut-brown hair, pale skin, and large amber eyes flecked with topaz and emerald. She smelled of rain, of the clean thunderstorm sweeping over the green river valley. She was so beautiful. Just like he remembered. He would have smiled, but he was so very tired.
   A cool hand touched his burning forehead, and he fell into deep sleep.



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Thank you for joining us for the “Rites of Spring Blog Hop.” Enjoy the rest of your tour. Keep your hands inside the shuttle, and watch out for twisting wormholes!

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SFR Brigade Presents…FORGE

Welcome! I’m glad to have you stop by this corner of “SFR Brigade Presents…”

So you think you’re having a bad day? Imagine waking up from a nightmare of enslavement…in jail. With no idea how you got there, or even who you are. You’re “Tazhret”…”Nameless.” You’ve been accused of being a drug addict–because they found you rocketed on an illegal hallucinogen. And now, you’re about to be turned into an indentured servant–an izzy. You’d probably be looking for a lifeline, too. Someone–even if she might be only the product of your drug-fueled hallucinations–who tells you what you most need to hear….


Rough hands hauled him off the cot. Dizzied, he stumbled between the deputies, his steps dragging out of the cell, across the back of a large room crowded with desks, toward an oversized, dull-metal armchair, covered with straps. He stopped short on a hard gasp. The deputies pushed him forward.

“Move along, Tazhret,” the chief constable ordered. “This is your simplest path to a fresh start—”

Tazhret erupted into sudden violence, twisting out of the deputies’ grasp, jamming his elbows into their guts. They doubled over. A right cross to the chief’s jaw rocked the Tormin back.

Tazhret ran. Ran toward the exit, almost flying in light gravity. Must be on a lunar transfer station—

The electric hammer of a hurled shockstick hit him in the back of his head, fried his nerves, and plunged him back into darkness. Chains waited for him there, and an evil master. And a woman with nut-brown hair, who whispered, “You have a name.”

Hope you enjoyed your visit!


Return to SFR Brigade Presents.

SFR Brigade Presents…

Welcome! I’m glad to have you stop by this corner of “SFR Brigade Presents…”

For my first appearance here, I’ve got a snippet from my first book: “FORGE: Book I of the Thrall Web Series.”

Brief set-up: Keir–once a “half-starved izzy, mostly a lump of scars inside and out”– is now fully healed. In command of his talent, he leads the effort to save the planet Forge from cataclysm. As the first step, he must establish, on the psychic plane, a rapport with the woman who healed him. The same woman who has haunted his dreams since he first lost his name, his talent, and all his former life. (Nica’s full name has been deleted in order to reduce the spoiler-lishness of the clip….)

The scar down the left side of his face throbbed with the beat of his racing heart, as the healer raised her hand and laid it over the old wound. Avatar-to-avatar…and yet his skin warmed to her touch. Trinity, she was so close, he could kiss—

She took his hand, pulled up his sleeve, and showed him his wrist, with its wide, white scar—now pulsing with a golden glow.

“Keir, what…?” She brushed the tip of one finger across the remnant of his shackles.

Keir’s skin tingled. His heart skipped a beat, only to pound still faster with the desire to touch her in return. She was no longer a phantasm woven of scoot hallucinations and desperate hope. She was there, flesh-and-blood on the physical plane—there on the energy plane where thoughts and emotions took on the solidity of rock. With the embodiment of his dreams before him, Keir reined in his yearning heart. Nica he could have loved with honor. [The lady healer-adept] was beyond his touch. He gently reclaimed his hand, tugging the sleeve over the shimmering scar.

“I wear the gift of a healer’s touch, milady, and have mended well.”

Buy FORGE here.
~120k words. Semi-sweet. Epic adventure.

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