Firefly meets The Expanse is a really good way to describe this solar system-based space opera, as a ragtag crew of outlaws discover sinister secrets hidden from them by their political overlords.
Living in SolComm, the solar system community that houses the refugees from a now uninhabitable Earth, is all Gray Lynch has ever known. When he was placed in their Navy upon attainment of adulthood, he was both happy not to be sent to the mines and reluctant to take a place that would likely see him parted from his parents for years at a time. His stint in the Navy proved disillusioning, with the final straw being the response they sent to a small, if growing, political insurrection on the space station Themis. Disgusted, Gray walked away from the Navy and built up his own crew aboard the Arcus, engaging in a little light piracy and other minimally violent if illicit activities in order to keep body and soul together on the fringes of SolComm space.
When the Arcus gets a lead on a lucrative job that will require them to brave the Interdiction Zone (IZ) around Earth in order to scavenge several valuable artifacts for SolComm collectors, more than one of the crew is skeptical. It’s common knowledge that Earth has been taken over by unfettered sentient AI, necessitating humanity’s flight to the stars. SolComm built the IZ in order to protect what’s left of humanity from the landbound AI, effectively rendering any return impossible. But Gray’s contact assures him that they can get him through the IZ, and will make it worth the Arcus’ while.
It helps that Gray himself has actually been to Earth once, a fact that surprises, if not outright shocks, his team. But he’s not the only one keeping secrets, as they’ll all soon discover once they reach planet-side and discover what’s truly happened to Earth since their ancestors fled for the safety of space.
I really enjoyed J. T. Nicholas’ last sci-fi novel, Re-Coil, and while this one had a lot of potential, I felt it dragged way more than Re-Coil did. The shifting perspectives didn’t help much, as each of the three viewpoint characters were very much in their heads, constantly evaluating and re-evaluating their situations such that it felt like there was a lot of talking about what they were doing instead of actually doing it — which is pretty weird considering that quite a lot happens here! It sometimes felt like reading an earnest and thorough debate on future technology rather than an exciting sci-fi adventure. Which is fine if that’s what you like. I just prefer my reading with a little more spice, as Mr Nicholas’ prior novel had in spades.
Stolen Earth by J. T. Nicholas was published September 21 2021 by Titan Books and is available from all good booksellers, including