Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by Timothy Zahn
(1999, Bantam Books)


An interstellar vessel carrying a mysterious cargo runs into increasingly difficult problems as it tries to escape from desperate alien pursuers. The murder of one crewmember leads to mistrust among the crew, and the pilot pulls all of his tricks to bring it to its destination intact.


-- First reading (ebook)
December 3rd to 22nd, 2017


This was a really fun mystery, with all sorts of traps the author laid for his main character. Any time it seems that things are going to finally go easy, something new happens to upset the balance, which made the book a real ride. The supporting characters were along for the ride and to provide suspicion, but the pilot and his partner provided enough mistaken leads that I didn’t figure out who committed the murder until it was revealed. But by then, it’s almost irrelevant, as the focus shifts from the crew to the cargo, and Jordan’s mission behind the scenes of everything.

Spoiler review:

When the book started, I had a momentary flash of panic, that the story would be one-dimensional and simplistic, based on the bar fight. I needn’t have worried, for the rest of the story was fun entertainment with all sorts of unexpected twists. Every time I thought the ship was ready to move on, the author threw in another nasty twist.

The main character, Jordan McKell, seems to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time. When he’s approached by a mysterious man to pilot a spaceship to Earth, he takes the job. He recognizes the man as a famous archeologist who’s operating on this planet, and whose site is raided early in the book. But Cameron never shows up for the flight, and all the other crewmembers that he hired seem rather upset at that. Still, they get paid, and take off, and that’s where the action starts.

I liked the way spaceflight hasn’t quite been figured out in this universe. The ship has to stop many times for in-space repairs, which are performed using some sort of epoxy and an alien race that specializes in spacewalks. Everything can be solved with a wrench or blowtorch, similar to the Star Wars universe, with which this author is intimately acquainted. There are alien races, but they’re not all friendly, and most just want to live their own lives.

Then there are the Patth, who want the Icarus at all costs. They believe Cameron found something that will revolutionize space travel, which they are trying to monopolize with their fancy star drive Not knowing who the crew is nor what the ship looks like, they start out with small bounties, which increase in amount and frequency the closer the ship gets to Earth, and more information gets out.

Intertwined with this is Brother John, a side arm for a nefarious crime boss. Jordan and his alien partner Ixil (I loved this alien, with his touch-link to the small “ferrets” Pix and Pax) had financial troubles, so they turned to Brother John for help, and now they’ve been drawn into the organization, if only for shipping stuff. Some of the attacks Jordan encounters are due to the Patth, while others are from Brother John. It takes most of the book for Jordan to figure out which are which.

The engineer Jones is murdered as he’s supporting one of the spacewalks, which allows Jordan to bring in Ixil to replace him -somebody he can trust, because he can’t necessarily trust anybody in the crew now. They make a series of planetfalls for refueling, and each time Jordan leaves the ship he gets into some sort of trouble. Though he doesn’t know it at the time, he’s first attacked by Patth agents, then an old associate once the bounty notice is distributed. Searching for drugs to keep Shawn lucid (for a disease caught on an interdicted planet), he has to bluff his way past spaceport security; the second time, he’s captured by the Patth. It takes the other members of the Icarus crew to bluff their way into the interrogation to rescue him.

The author lets us know each time something clicks in Jordan’s brain, as he starts to put the pieces together. Of course, trying to figure it out without knowing Jordan’s secrets doesn’t allow the reader to figure it out, but it’s there in memory for the big reveal, when Jordan executes his trap for Brother John and Mr. Antoniewicz, the leader of the criminal organization.

So what is the Icarus carrying, after all? Jordan has to chase Cameron through the inter-wall chambers, unsuccessfully, until he figures that Cameron’s gone into the small sphere where the payload is stored. It’s not a new kind of stardrive, as the Patth suspect. It’s something far older, some sort of stargate, and Cameron is stuck on the other side of it. It was a little transparent when Tera gave Jordan a bunch of ration bars, in case he gets stuck. But Jordan is able to find the center of the sphere and give Cameron some food. And that’s when everything falls into place, and he lays his trap.

I thought Jordan must be a fool when he mentioned to Uncle Arthur where they were going in order to lay low. But it turns out that Jordan is part of Earthforce Intelligence -an active operative gone into deep cover after a court-martial, in order to track down the criminal organization. He made the lure too enticing to pass up, and he figures out that Dr. Everett was the murderer -for Brother John, not the Patth. Jordan organizes for Ixil’s species’ SWAT team to hide with Cameron, and suddenly appear after Brother John and Mr. Antoniewicz show up.

It’s amazing how elaborate the puzzle was, with such a simple narrative. I quite enjoyed it, especially as the mysteries start piling up.


Back to Top

All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright © 1999 -  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.