I've been in the mood for a rocking Space Opera for quite awhile now. Don't get me wrong. Near future SF is awesome when it's well done. My first love is fantasy and always will be. I've read a lot of good stuff lately. That much being said, there's still something visceral about unknown aliens attacking because who knows why and ships exploding. Yes, a nice uplifting story is nice but nothing beats a rip-snorting good page-turner that finds me cracking a book open before I can open my eyes far enough to see through my eyelids. Love scenes are awesome when done right (Yes, I admit it. I'm a Robotech fan for the love of Bob.) but nothing beats that moment of "Oh shit, where did that come from? And why is is shooting at me?" And if you're looking for a little bit of suspense, a lot of excitement, a big fight or two with an alien thrown in here and there and maybe just a smidge of a romantic element, then you're looking for James Young's An Unproven Concept.
Before I get to the story itself, I want to mention a couple of things I really like about the book that weren't, strictly speaking, part of the story. Young has thrown in a couple of important things that might be of use to a person who likes SF/F but isn't all that familiar with nautical terms: One is a drawing at the beginning of the book showing the different parts of the ship (bow, stern, etc.) and directional terms used by sailors such as ventral, dorsal, etc. Being a landlubber myself I liked this part of the story a lot. There is also a glossary at the end of the book for anything that still leaves the reader confused. Some of us can really benefit from this type of thing. Seriously. If you're looking at getting into the works of a guy like David Weber this may be a good place to start. Young can teach you the basics and give you a great story. Then you can go forth and use your knowledge for no goo... err... to enjoy other things as well. The best kind of knowledge is that which doesn't hurt to get and that can be reused for free. Oh, and there were a few other illustrations in the book that I loved that weren't necessarily educational as well.
Young's story revolves around a passenger liner that is someplace it shouldn't be. It gets attacked by alien and the humans in the book, many of whom are either military or security personnel, or both, fight back to try to save their own skins and the lives of the civilians around them. The aliens appear out of nowhere and things get ugly quickly. The fact that no one quite knows who they are adds spice. The fact that no one knows where the came from might just be what leads into the rest of the series. I haven't read it yet so it's hard to say, but I'm definitely looking forward to more. There is a lot of story here still to be told.
What is here is awesome though. Survival is guaranteed to no one in this tome. When a passenger liner full of civilians and retired military gets boarded things get ugly quickly. Young's aliens make pretty good but not perfect (more on this later) villains. They're ruthless and intelligent but not all knowing and annoying. They can fight but apparently have a skilled technical caste as well. I don't want to spoil the book but there are times when they do something completely unexpected and it works. Our heroes are always on their toes and they have to be.
Young's heroes aren't always heroic in the sense a lot of other writers' heroes are. That's because he portrays them as doing what's necessary instead of what feels good. Young's characters are not James T Kirk. There is no overacting, no aha moment and no miraculous ending. This does start to look like the Kobayashi Maru, but there is no cheating here. When one of Young's characters is given the choice between defending a group of innocents or acting to save the entire ship he makes the militarily right decision. It's not easy for him and he pays the price later but he does his duty. Young's captains do their duty when they know what the cost is likely for the same reason This type of gritty realism is hard to pull of but Young does a damn good job of it. Young is retired military and it shows, although I'm still trying to figure out how an Army guy ended up writing Navy and Marine stories has me a bit perplexed.
There is a lot of political intrigue in this work. It's obvious that Young has been hard at work on his universe and that there is a lot out there left to be revealed. It's politics at all levels as well: Fleet politics, interstellar politics and office politics all appear in the story and they all matter. When the shooting pauses, the politics go full tilt. Unless there is some other form of personal drama going on. This is Space Opera and, while the romance does not by any stretch of the imagination take over the book, it's there and well done. One moment in particular is the kind of thing that will stick with you forever once you've read the book.
I only have one major complaint about this work but it's one I've had about a lot of others. The aliens in the book are inhuman and enigmatic. That's OK. Aliens don't have to be human because they're aliens. They're almost complete ciphers though. At no point do we get a scene with an alien point of view. We never find out what their motivations are. They just show up and kick ass. Granted, the book focuses on the humans and their reactions but AUC could have been even better if we knew why the aliens were doing what they were doing. Here's hoping that future volumes will reveal more about the enemy. His motivations matter too and can make for some good reading. There's a reason that Yellow Eyes is my favorite of John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata series. That much being said, this book still rocks and it's not like there was any great need in the plot to throw this in there.
Bottom Line:4.75 out of 5 Gas Giants
An Uproven Concept
Self published, 2014
An Unproven Conceptis available for sale here: