Review of INTO THE HINTERLANDS by David Drake and John Lambshead
Baen, September 2011
Rather than travel in spaceships, in this universe, humans accomplish star travel using pedal-powered devices that navigate the "Continuum." In contrast, the human-derived "Riders" travel using crystal beasts. Although Allenson and Hawthorn use single-person vehicles, these are considered low-class by the formal military of both nations who insist on less maneuverable multi-person vehicles, and on having their officers pedaled rather than participating in the work.
Allenson discovers that the mercantile system imposed by Brasilia (which minimizes independence of client worlds by requiring all major technology by made on a home world) leaves the worlds of the Hinterland weak and difficult to defend. The military sent by the home worlds offers overwhelming force, but is sluggish and overly dependent on supply chains that stretch all the way back to the home worlds. The only good news is that the Earth-based forces face similar problems.
The idea of pedal-based space travel is kind of fun (especially for a proponent of bicycle-based commuting like myself) although a bit of a hard sell. The mercantilistic economy of Brasilia has parallels to the British mercantile system of the eighteenth century (colonies are not allowed to manufacture but are expected to ship raw materials back to the home world), but the peonage and poverty of the bulk of the people could also be a futuristic vision of the 99%.
Authors David Drake (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Drake) and John Lambshead combine to create a future universe with plenty of parallels to American colonial history, battles, a bit of a romantic triangle, and several intriguing characters. The book is capably written and I found it smooth reading. I have a bit of a hard time buying into the battle sequences--the notion that major military forces of space-traveling nations could be quite so easily disrupted by guerilla attacks didn't ring true for me (although we can suppose that the "continuum" makes radio communications impossible, allowing pre-technology communications failure to take place). Likewise, Allenson seems to become a patriot loyal to the colonial worlds of the "Stream" rather abruptly--while the Brasilia system may not be much, the peonage system of the Stream doesn't seem particularly admirable (although it's possible that this system can be blamed on the home worlds, that point isn't really made).
Overall, INTO THE HINTERLANDS is an enjoyable story. It'll be interesting to see how Drake and Lambshead develop this universe... will they continue to give us a futuristic version of the American Colonial/Independence world, or will they spin their story in new ways--ways that give us a better reflection on current social and economic trends?Three Stars
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