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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Review: Fearless by Allen Stroud

 

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OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Allen Stroud (Ph.D) is a university lecturer and Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror writer, best known for his work on the computer games Elite Dangerous (Frontier Developments) and Phoenix Point (Snapshot Games). He has chaired the British Fantasy Society's Fantasycon and is the current Chair of the British Science Fiction Association. His SF novels, Fearless, and Resilient are published by Flame Tree Press. He also composes science fiction music soundtracks, including for The Fractal Series.

FORMAT/INFO: Fearless was published on September 8th, 2020 by Flame Tree Press. It is 362 pages long and is told in first person from multiple POVs, including Captain Shann. It is available in paperback, hardback, and ebook.



OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: It should have been a simple rescue mission. In the far flung future of 2118, humanity has finally begun to spread out across the solar system, with colonies scattered from Earth's moon to the moons of Jupiter. Helping to make sure that everyone arrives at their destinations safely is Captain Shann and her ship the Khidr. The Khidr is one of a small fleet that patrols between all the colonies, keeping an eye out for any ships in distress. So when they receive an SOS from the Hercules, it's just a day like any other. Except when they arrive, they find the crew dead, and another ship waiting to attack them. Days away from any kind of help, the Khidir manages to flee to temporary safety, but Shann is all too aware that it's only a matter of time before their foe tracks them down and ends them once and for all.

Fearless is a tense race against time, a sci-fi adventure that keeps you constantly reminded about the dangers of space. Set about a hundred years in our future, the space technology of Fearless is better than ours but not to an unrecognizable degree. We may have colonies on Mars, but traveling at significant speed still requires dealing with g-forces, and transmissions take hours or days to arrive. Think of a technology point somewhere between our own and that of The Expanse, and you'll have a rough idea of what you're getting into.

That means that this is a story that pits Captain Shann and her crew not just against enemy combatants, but against the elements as well. A nick to your EVA suit could be just as deadly as a missile from an enemy ship. Every maneuver has to consider the consumption of resources, from fuel to oxygen to even potentially human lives. It's this tension that keeps the story moving, as Shann has to constantly juggle how to stay alive - a feat made even more difficult by growing realization that someone on her ship is a traitor.

Against the backdrop of all this are brief snippets of various news reports about growing tensions back on Earth. While the focus of this story is about the struggle between these two ships, factional divisions back home lead to explanations of why this attack happened in the first place. Glancing at the synopsis for the sequel, it's clear that the author plans to expand the story beyond this tiny crew as the trilogy continues.

The one area where I'd say the story is weakest is the overall characters. While the author occasionally dips into the backstory of a few of the characters, most aren't fleshed out much more beyond their name and rank. The exception is lead character Shann, who is the focus of a significant chunk of the POV chapters (with other characters rotating in). We do spend a little more time getting to know about her past, especially as she was born with no legs; it made life a continuous challenge on Earth, but she excels in the zero-g of space where walking is no longer a requirement. Shann is a calm and methodical leader, but also one increasingly burdened by the guilt over crew members who don't survive, leading to increasing doubt as the stakes get higher.

CONCLUSION: Fearless is exactly the kind of sci-fi story I'm a sucker for. Ever since APOLLO 13, I've been a fan of sci-fi stories that force people to be innovative to survive in space, and that's exactly the kind of story we have here. With only the implements on their ship, this crew of 25 (and shrinking) has to find a way to out-think and outmaneuver a bigger, faster, more powerful ship. It was the kind of story that easily sucked me into a "one more chapter" black hole, and I can easily say I'll be picking up the sequel in the near future.

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