In Review: Netherspace

One of the best original science fiction novels I've read. Highest possible recommendation.

Netherspace by Andrew Lane and Nigel Foster

Published by Titan Books, May 2, 2017. Paperback of 384 pages at $14.95. 

The cover: Against a brilliant bright yellow background, several orange globules, maybe microscopic life, maybe planets, float about, with a pair seemingly infected, as shown by the black spots on them. A blurb from Adam Christopher is in the upper left hand corner, the title in the dead center, with Lane’s name above it and Foster’s name below, with the text “First Contact Is Only The Beginning…” at the very bottom. This is an excellent representative cover, designed by Julia Lloyd. What one believes this cover to be will depend largely on how one feels at the end of this tale. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the back cover, “Aliens came to Earth forty years ago. Their anatomy proved unfathomable and all attempts at communication failed. But through trade, humanity gained technology that allowed them to colonise the stars. The price: live humans for every alien faster-than-light drive. Kara’s sister was one of hundreds exchanged for this technology, and Kara has little love for aliens. So when she is drafted by GalDiv — the organisation that oversees aliens trades — it is under duress. A group of colonists have been kidnapped by aliens and taken to an uncharted planet, and an unusual team is to be sent to negotiate. As an ex-army sniper, Kara’s role is clear. But artist Marc has no combat experience, although the team’s pre-cog Tse is adamant that he has a part to play. All three know that success is unlikely. For how will they negotiate with aliens when communication between the species is impossible?” I love alien stories where communication is difficult, so I’m on board, but the addition of humans being traded for faster-than-light engines is a sick twist that has me raring to see how far humanity has lost its morality to go to the stars. Overall grade: A+

The characters: Kara Jones is the book’s protagonist because she’s in charge of GalDiv’s first official alien hostage negotiation team. One of the reasons she’s been drafted for the job deals with why she left the military, and it’s not pretty. Kara initially seems to be the classic tough as nails ex-military, but she’s much more. She has knowledge that others need and she has an incredible AI, most people have one, that has a personality boarding on life. Jones is a multifaceted character that makes her every appearance engaging. Joining her is the most popular artist on Earth, Marc Keislack. He has no military background, but needs to go because of how aliens regard his art. His inclusion seemed really stretching things, but as the story progressed it became obvious why he had to be on the team and his character grew far beyond the moody artist he began. Tse Durrel is a diplomat sent to help understand what the aliens are saying, though no one on Earth knows/understands why the aliens do what they do. Tse also grew incredibly as a character, though how this character ended the novel seemed a little too pat. After Kara, the strongest character is Tatia Nerein, a young heiress who attracts the attentions of Juan Smith, a prophet who believes that humanity and the aliens belong together. Her story parallels Kara and her crew’s and was much more exciting. I enjoyed Kara and company’s tale, but I eagerly awaited each additional portion of Tatia’s saga. There are three different types of aliens, with the primary ones being the Gliese and Cancri. They are unlike any lifeforms I’ve encountered in any novel, for which the authors are to be congratulated, and their behavior is completely up for grabs, making them exciting and frightening. The characters in this novel, save Durrel, are exceptional. Overall grade: A  

The settings: There are three primary settings: Earth, netherspace, and an alien world. Earth is not to far from its current state, save a tremendous uptick in technology and that the government is run in an entirely different way. Netherspace is very interesting, as humans cannot look for it for even five seconds or go insane. Ships are covered in a foam that allows no one to look outside; however, any reader knows that Lane and Foster are going to give it a peek at it and it does not disappoint. How netherspace effects each member of the crew is very interesting and informative. Space is nothing like any that of any popular film or program. The alien world is fantastic and cannot be described because much of its enjoyment comes from every little detail the characters learn about it. Chapter 15 is an incredible location, revealing much and beginning new questions. Every setting of this novel is memorable. Overall grade: A+  

The action: The action aboard the ship that’s making its way through netherspace is creepy. There’s a building tension that increases the longer the characters are in it, with relationships among the crew adding to the creepfest. Bad things happen to the ship, both within and outside, and death seems to be lurking about in every chapter. The strongest action occurs for Tatia and her followers. Their parts of the novel were absolutely riveting. I couldn’t get enough of these scenes because no one knows what the aliens are doing — everything is open for discussion, and the authors bring up all the possible conclusions without once feeling like their voices are intruding into the story. The action and tension kept me turning pages. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: The problem is solved, but the larger questions remain and things are left open for a sequel for the survivors. The book had to end with several questions because many things weren’t — couldn’t — be answered. I was completely satisfied and am hungry for more adventures with these characters. Overall grade: A+

The final line: One of the best original science fiction novels I’ve read. Alien races are again beyond the understanding of mankind and I couldn’t be happier. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

To order a print copy go to http://titanbooks.com/netherspace-8777/

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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