Review: Starshatter by Black Knight
Starshatter is a collection of space adventure tales featuring a diverse cast of cool characters confronting hostile aliens, slavers, and pirates. This first book in the series deftly introduces the human, alien, and uplifted animal characters as well as the larger universe in action-packed and thrilling short stories.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Starshatter. I encourage you to check it out!
Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)
This review contains minor spoilers.
Starshatter Publisher Description:
Starshatter is the first book of a new, vibrant and exciting space opera series inspired by 80’s Sci-fi.
It is the year 2018 by Earth’s calendar. The Terran Imperial Minarchy faces enemies on all sides and has but a few precious allies. Its small, decimated by a previous pirate invasion population, is now strengthened by a multitude of uplifted animal species. The humans and their newly created brothers in sentience chose to colonize Fringe Space – a large expanse rife with piracy, slavery and a multitude of other dangers.
Ruled by arrogant Pirate Lords and drug running Cartels, its current masters are poised to permanently deal with the uppity, freedom-loving Terrans. Especially those in the employ of the mighty Taz’aran Empire.
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The Starshatter tales offer a kaleidoscopic array of interesting settings. Spaceships and abandoned wrecks, alien and colonized planets provide varied scenes for the action that unfolds. I appreciated how Black Knight utilized the settings to shape that action, making each new story feel like it belonged uniquely to that place.
They are also limited in scope. Each story feels intimate, contributing to a larger picture of Fringe Space all together, without ever bogging down the pace with an info dump or worldbuilding exposition.
Cool People Doing Cool Things
Like the settings, the people that populate Fringe Space are also unique. Their personalities and backgrounds make meeting each one a fun experience for the reader.
Every story featured a cool character doing cool things: the last survivor of a colony battling invaders in a strange forest, a woman fighting off aliens on her quest for a husband, a hamster wielding really big guns.
They are unified by an idea of bravery, a sort of heroism that does not back down against superior odds and injustice. I was never afraid that the characters would disappoint or betray the belief in the value of such a fight with misguided “realism.”
Furthermore, even though each story is separate with its own characters, rising action, climax, and resolution, they built in intensity, mirroring the usual pacing of a novel. It managed to hook me in a way that a short story collection rarely does.
Humanity’s Role in the Universe
I loved how Starshatter portrayed the role of humanity in the larger universe. Rather than the backwards hicks who join their technological and moral superiors in space, humanity’s commitment to justice and efforts to defend the rights of other sentient beings serves to inspire heroism in other races. Of course, it creates enemies for them as well.
What a refreshing change to see an author put forward a vision of humans that features positive differences from other spacefaring peoples rather than criticisms. It really makes the human characters feel set apart, rather than the “default” or “not special” people in a setting populated by multiple alien species as well as uplifted animal races and artificial intelligence.
I think the alternate history elements of the story helped contribute to this a bit, too. The humans are a bit different from us, and thus the reader has to pay attention to them with the same diligence as to other characters.
I think the positive view of humanity is particularly interesting because—unlike many of the sci-fi I’ve reviewed before, such as Made in His Image—the religious component is not based in any real-world belief system.
Rather, Black Knight has presented a vision for a dearly held value system that any number of aliens might adopt and act upon.
“They believed that the Universe itself was a living being, an organism comprised of all matter, both visible and invisible. Sentient beings were the Universe’s attempt to understand itself, therefore, for the Universalists, creating or nurturing any sentient life was of huge importance” (92-93).
The result is a belief system that supports both the sanctity of life and the right of self defense without an appeal to the reader’s usual logical contexts.
Unclear in this novel is the other “of two schools of thought” to which that the majority of people adhere in their beliefs. I am interested to know if that other school is merely the opposing view that uplifted races should serve their progenitors or if it is a similarly detailed mythology and value system.
In the prologue, Black Knight lays out his vision for the Starshatter series.
“Our modern world is in desperate need of new, heroic legends. Tales that inspire courage before adversity and bestow the reader with hope, two things which are very much needed in these troubling times.”
These stories certainly highlight bravery, heroism, and resisting oppression. But I hesitate to attribute them with any galvanizing effects.
Humanity is driven nearly to extinction by their reluctance to compromise. Characters seem to fight out of a desire to cause their enemy as big a headache as possible. Perhaps sticking in the craw of the evil-doer is enough to motivate some, but I found myself looking for a deeper value that would produce the death-before-surrender sentiment that defines the heroes of this book.
It seems to me to demand something with a more detailed concept of justice and particularly an objective morality with lasting consequences beyond the individual than the Universalists provide.
Check Out Starshatter!
Starshatter is a compelling story of heroic determination in a well-crafted space opera setting. I am eager to see where the rest of the series takes these characters!
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