#RRSciFiMonth Book Review: Outpost by W. Michael Gear
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Donovan Trilogy
Publisher: DAW (February 20, 2018)
Length: 422 pages
Author Information: Website
One thing I realized after reading this book, is that I love colonization sci-fi for a lot of the same reasons I love Westerns. A harsh and unforgiving landscape always seems to play an important role, and the stories often project a similar kind of atmosphere and ambience: the thrill of heading out into the great unknown and largely unsettled territory, the struggle of making a better life for yourself and your family while trying to impart order on a dangerous wilderness, and the absolute lawlessness of an untamed and sparsely populated frontier.
But despite the merciless nature of the land, some people take to it and even thrive on it, embracing it as their home. This is essentially the tableau we’re presented with in Outpost by W. Micheal Gear. Our story opens on Donovan, a planet settled by colonists who arrived a mere few decades ago to establish a mining operation on behalf of the Corporation. What they hadn’t expected, however, was the lack of support they would receive from their employers. Everyone had underestimated the dangers on Donovan, and as a result, within a generation, the original group of settlers had been reduced to couple hundred. Some had fallen prey to predators, while many more died from accidents and disease. Had they been provided with the necessary weapons, medicines, and equipment they were promised, most of the deaths could have been prevented, but the last time the colony saw a Corporate resupply ship was more than six years ago.
Of course, some of this also had to do with the unavoidable perils of space travel. Almost half a dozen Corporate ships have gone missing, never reaching their destinations. So when news arrives that the Turalon has been sighted in orbit, it is almost like a miracle. The people of Donovan are relieved but some are also quite fearful. With space travel being such a risky business these days, what will happen to their colony? And for those who want to return to the Solar System, is it worth the chance that they will become lost forever? Or would it be better simply to remain on Donovan, where most of the colonists have deeds to their own land and control over their own lives? Could they even convince the Corporation representatives to let them keep the properties and businesses they’ve established, or has the Turalon come to seize and dismantle everything they’ve worked so hard to build?
So many questions, and so many avenues for story ideas and character exploration. Speaking of which, Outpost features a pretty big cast, but all the individuals are compelling and memorable in their own unique ways. Some of the major players include Talina Perez, the de facto leader of the Port Authority colony on Donovan. She’s a tough and charismatic woman who first arrived on planet to protect the original settlers, but over time she has grown to accept Donovan and in turn Donovan has grown to accept her. The book starts off with a scene of Talina having a run-in with a quetzal—a type of lizard-like creature native to the planet, whose favorite prey includes warm, squishy humans—and the encounter leaves her changed forever. Backing her up are her team of enforcers and friends, including Yvette and Shig with their invaluable advice, as well as Trish, the young orphaned teen Talina had taken under her wing. I loved Talina and the way she was written, mainly because of the presence she commanded through her actions and words; there was no telling, only showing.
Then we have the characters of the Corporation, and believe it or not, in this corner we find even more incredible and varied backgrounds. Kalico Aguila is the supervisor of the Turalon expedition, an ambitious young woman who finds herself in way over her head when she arrives on Donovan to find a diminished colony whose members have devolved in a wild and ungovernable bunch of roughnecks who could give a rat’s ass about her so-called authority. A rich spoiled princess, she has never had anyone defy her to her face, and now she faces a tough decision, weighing what she knows about the colony’s riches against the dangers of spacing. Answering to Kalico is Max Taggart, the Marine captain in charge of enforcing the law—or at least as far as the law can be enforced on Donovan, as the Corporation soon learns the hard way. A brutal no-nonsense tough guy, Max is the epitome of the stony and unrelenting officer who only is best at following orders, which is why the intense chemistry generated between him and Talina ended up being such a fantastic surprise.
And finally, there’s Dan Wirth…who’s not actually Dan Wirth. A murdering psychopath who stole his identity in order to board the Turalon, Dan has no intention of ever returning to Earth, where a death sentence awaits. To him, the chaos on Donovan means paradise and a chance for him to get a piece of the action, and he can hide his true intentions for as long as it takes. Even though he’s bar none the vilest, most despicable character in the entire novel, Dan was one of my favorite points-of-view to follow. Having an antagonist as one of your main POVs is always a risky choice, but it’s also one that pays off so much when done well. Dan’s sections of the story added even more nuance to the already threatening and high-strung atmosphere of Port Authority and made the colony’s predicament into an even more volatile situation.
There’s a lot going on in this book: survival, politics, romance, and even a mystery with the return of a Corporate ship that went missing two years ago. However, everybody onboard has died of old age and all that’s left of the crew is a pile of skulls indicating the possibility of some death-cult ritual (see the cover). Communication equipment on the ghost ship is working but non-functional—almost as though it is trapped in its own sort of time bubble.
In sum, there is a lot to love in Outpost—so many places to go, people to meet, and stories to discover. There’s action and adventure, high drama mixed with intrigue and suspense, a dash of passion and heartbreak. I enjoyed every moment reading this book and in some ways I’m glad I’d waited to start it, because of course now I can jump into the sequel right away. I can’t wait to see what else the Donovan Trilogy has in store for us.