In Review: Impulse: Volume One of the Lightship Chronicles

I won't be returning for the next book.

Impulse: Volume One of the Lightship Chronicles by Dave Bara

Published by DAW Books, Inc. December 1, 2015. Paperback of 378 pages at $7.99. 

The cover: A monstrous ship blocks out the closest sun as it makes it way through a debris field. A small scout ship seems to be looking around the twisted metal, unaware of one person down at the bottom of the image, alive in the cold, empty space. It was this illustration by Stephan Martiniere that caught my eye when I was scanning my local bookstore for something new. I really liked the coloring, with the violets of space standing out. I also like seeing one man standing against impossible odds, so having that one lonely person before the ship looked cool. The design of this cover is by G-Force Design and Alissa Theodor designed the book. A good job by all. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Lieutenant Peter Cochrane of the Quantar Royal Navy believes he has his future clearly mapped out. It is slated to begin with his assignment as a junior officer on Her Majesty’s Spaceship Starbound, a newly commissioned Lightship bound for deep space voyages of exploration. But everything changes when Peter is summoned to the office of his father, Grand Admiral Nathan Cochrane, and given devastating news. In a distant star system, a mysterious and unprovoked attack upon Lightship Impulse has resulted in the deaths of Peter’s former girlfriend and her shipmates. Now Peter’s plans are torn asunder as he is suddenly promoted and transferred to Impulse, a United Space Navy ship under foreign command, en route to an unexpected destination. Even the Earth Historian — a member of the sect that controls the use and distribution of technology — a man who has mentored Peter for years, cannot prepare him for what lies ahead. To top things off, Peter’s superiors have given him secret orders that might force him to become a mutineer. Once aboard the newly repaired Lightship, Peter is faces with a captain driven by the need for revenge against the unknown attackers who nearly destroyed Impulse. This thirst for vengeance will soon endanger everyone aboard. And Peter will find himself forced to choose between rescuing his comrades and the mysterious agenda of the ship’s Historian, an agenda that will lead into a galaxy of the unknown — of ancient technologies, age-old rivalries, new cultures, and unexpected romance. It’s an overwhelming responsibility for Peter, and one false step could plunge humanity into an apocalyptic interstellar war…” That’s one long premise and I hoped this didn’t spoil too much of the book, and it didn’t — this is pretty much all that occurs in just the first few chapters, so I was pleased nothing was truly given away. I’m interested to see what kinds of adventure Cochrane gets into and I really want to know about these Earth Historians. Overall grade: A

The characters: Twenty-three year old Peter Cochrane is the protagonist of the book. He’s young, but confident in his abilities and comes across as your typical heroic spaceman. He does what he think is right, regardless of how it appears to others, and he will support his crew in every way, even sacrificing his own life to save them if necessary. Peter is most enjoyable when he’s on his own, as Bara expands the character the most when he’s facing his doubts/troubles internally, or when he’s paired with superior officer Dobrina Kierkopf. She is an excellent foil for Peter, since she’s always by-the-book and he’s not. She’s three years older than he is and has seen more of space than he has, but she has a thing or two to learn from him. I was expecting there to be some type of romance between the two of them, given their introduction and their first battle. This desire to see to the other’s safety and be intimate didn’t hinder the book’s plot, though it was predictable. The Earth Historians were the most interesting characters of the book, since they have knowledge no other characters have. Tralfane is the Historian aboard the Impulse, and Serosian is the Historian that has taught Peter. The two characters are very opposite, and their differences become a source of tension as the book progresses. I enjoyed them immensely until the halfway point, where Serosian became an exposition machine to move the plot forward: if there’s an obstacle, he magically appears with the answer, which leads the heroes on. This also made the action predictable, as his appearance telegraphed to me that any troubles would soon be solved. There’s a planet discovered whose inhabitants are decades behind the technological level of the Navy and the characters there seemed more suited to an Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novel. The characters of this novel were fine, just very predictable. Overall grade: C

The settings: The Lightships were very cool: I liked their descriptions and what they were capable of. Asteroids and small planetoids populate one specific location, and it became a smart instance of the setting influencing the story. I enjoyed this immensely. The world near these objects was too sci-fi fantasy for me; it didn’t seem to fit in with anything seen or discussed earlier. The most exciting an unique setting was a locale that contained a specific object. This was the most original setting and I wish more time could have spent exploring this place. Overall grade: B

The action: This wasn’t good. Anytime Peter puts himself in danger to save his friends or crew, he passes out. It was Harry Potter syndrome. Anytime Peter or his crew encounters something unknown, one of the Earth Historians appears on the bridge and reveals some new information to navigate the problem. This got old quickly. I did not care for the action of this book. Overall grade: D+

The conclusion: The mystery is not solved, the true villains are not discovered, but promises are made for more stories. I know this was “Book One”, but I expected something to be resolved. Overall grade: D+

The final line: I won’t be returning for the next book. There were plenty of opportunities for something neat to happen, but author Bara seemed to have a cop-out at every instance. This is a shame because there are several interesting ideas thrown about. Overall grade: C-

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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