Sunday, August 18, 2013

REVIEW: Hegemony

Title: Hegemony
Author: Mark Kalina
Genre: SF
Price: $0.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I’ve had a run of not-very-good SF novels to review, and that plus personal issues (I bought a new house) have led to some radio silence.  Well, I’m breaking that silence to talk about Mark Kalina’s novel Hegemony.  It’s part of a burgeoning sub-genre, namely, “space opera that tries to get the science right.”  I found it entertaining and engrossing.

In movie and TV science fiction, such as Battlestar Galatica and Star Wars, we see a lot of small, single-pilot combat vessels zipping about.  These are usually portrayed as running rings around larger and more ponderous vessels, while these small ships can be deadly to the big boys.  The setup bears more than a little resemblance to modern-day fighter carrier-based fighter pilots, and allows for lots of screen time for attractive pilots with good teeth.

Yet, in reality, modern carrier aviation works because even a slow military plane travels ten times as fast as a fast warship, and moves in a different medium.  Space ships all move in the same medium, and not only is there no reason for a small ship to be faster than a big one, the small ship will run out of fuel before the big guy does.  So space fighters don’t work.

Except when somebody makes a real effort to make them work, which is what we have in Mark Kalina’s case.  His space fighters draw power from the mother ship’s lasers, allowing greater acceleration and acting to enhance the mother ship’s weapons range.  Mark also addresses the problem of humans being able to withstand high G-forces by having humans upload into computers, and he invokes quantum theory to ensure a human can only be in one computer at a time.  If you die, we don’t just go to the backup – you’re dead.

This is all rather deftly explained in the opening chapters of Hegemony.  Humanity has long since fled Earth, and two multi-planet groups of humans, the Hegemony and the Coalition, are in a (currently cold) war with each other.  Into this mix steps Alekzandra “Zandy” Neel, interceptor pilot and former commoner.  Her ship gets tasked to investigate what looks like a bit of piracy, but the situation proves exceptionally more complex. 

I find myself liking a lot of Kalina’s world-building.  Zandy’s character is rather well-developed for the genre, and I found the worlds created fascinating.  In the Hegemony, the aristocrats (referred to by the Greek aristokrat√≠a) are permanently uploaded into computers, and download into biomechanical avatars.  This is not-well-regarded either by the common people of the Hegemony (including Zandy’s mother) nor the Coalition.  Actually, even Zandy’s a bit conflicted about the idea.

On the subject of world-building, one of my pet peeves in space opera is to map wet-water Navy traditions and ship types onto a space force.  Not so in Hegemony – Kalina rolls his own fleet.  But this is not just a world-builder’s novel.  Space opera is not known for character development, but there’s a fair bit of that for even the secondary characters.  Hegemony is a short book at 298 pages, but it packs a strong punch.  Highly recommended.