Welcome to one of the last planets on the outskirts of the galaxy: the low-oxygen, mostly desert, way out of the way Factus. This dusty little outpost didn’t take a side in the war between the Accord and the Free Limits, not that either power had much use for the waterless wasteland anyway. With the FL defeated, the Accord has half-heartedly taken to administering Factus, but their forces are spread thin and lawlessness is the norm. So it’s the perfect place for an ex-army medic named Ten Low to travel the barrens, trying to atone for her sins during the war by saving lives now, no questions asked.
When Ten witnesses a fiery crash in the desert, she’s the first person on-scene. There’s only one survivor, a young girl Ten knows she has to get out of the wreckage before the Seekers, a cult feared for their allegiance to the strange beings that live in the wilds of Factus, come and find them. But Seekers aren’t the deadliest threat to Ten or to the girl, who turns out to be the fearsome, decorated General Gabriella Ortiz of the Accord, a child-soldier specifically engineered for warfare. Once the General regains consciousness, she demands Ten bring her to the closest Accord base. But treachery soon has the duo on the run from military hit squads, bandits and worse, as Ten’s purpose narrows to this one thing: getting the General to safety no matter what the cost.
Ten Low has been compared to Dune, but I think a much more accurate comparison is to Mad Max, with a strong dash of Firefly. Ten fights the voices in her head, desperately determined to do the right thing in a post-war setting reminiscent of George Miller’s desert Australia as his series progresses. The insertion of a cool quantum physical aspect to the spirits that haunt Factus adds an even headier scientific aspect to what’s essentially a road trip Western undertaken by two people who don’t much like one another. The General isn’t afraid to use her seeming childlike innocence to her advantage, and Ten’s dislike of the high-handed military commander is tempered by her meditations on what it means and what it must have cost to be molded into that form. The conversations between the two on military service are one of the highlights of this book: both went into it with the highest of ideals but now have vastly differing viewpoints.
I’m rather hoping for a sequel, as I think there’s a lot of potential story to be explored as Ten embraces her connection to Factus’ monsters. The world-building is excellent, tho let’s be real: I’ve never met a Space/Weird Western I haven’t liked. That said, Stark Holborn is one of the best current writers in the genre, with a knack for adding high concept science and math to the proceedings. More please!
Ten Low by Stark Holborn was published June 8 2021 by Titan Press and is available from all good booksellers, including