I'm back! It's been months, I know, but I was busily hacking away at my submission to the Anthology Project, and I hit quite a few authorial roadblocks before it was finally completed. By the time I sent Zendexor my first draft, there were 10 other unfinished attempts sitting in my drive.
I'm glad to have it done, and it's left me time to pick up the threads of the Travelogue where I left off - with the ninth story in the Old Mars anthology, A Man Without Honor by James S. A. Corey.
Fans of more contemporary science fiction may be familiar with the author's name. It's the shared alias of two gentlemen: Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Together they wrote/are writing The Expanse series, a sprawling space opera set in a (mostly) hard sci-fi future of our Solar System, with a television adaption in its second season. What many may not know is that they also wrote an OSS story, and a pretty good one at that.
A Man Without Honor is framed as a letter “For the
exclusive eyes of George Louis, by the Grace of God King of Great Britain,
France, and Ireland” by the fictional pirate Alexander Augustus Lawton. (Well,
fictional as far as I can tell. If anyone knows otherwise, lemme know!)
Lawton recounts to the king an adventure which takes him from the clear waters of the Caribbean up to the starry void and finally down again to Martian soil stained red with theblood of war.
That body we call Mars was once home to a vast and flourishing civilization. Great cities of living crystal filled the mountains and planes, connected by a network of canals filled with sweet water. The seven races lived together there in harmony and conflict, peace and war, much in the fashion of the nations of our own world… Those cities now lie in shards, the canals empty and dry. The Ikkean race, for reasons known only in their own insectile councils, turned en masse upon the other six races. The soft-shelled Manae, wise and gentle Sorid (of whom La’an was the first of my acquaintance), radiant Imesqu, vast and slow Norian, mechanical Achreon, and our own cousin Humanity were driven under the surface of the planet, to live in the great caverns where the Ikkeans feared to follow.
CLUFFs galore! Sadly, we don’t ever meet any Imesqu, Norians, Achreons or Manae, but A Man Without Honor still delivers on exciting set pieces, particularly when the Pirates and Martians pool their resources to fight off the insectoid hordes. Abraham and Franck have a special skill for battles, as evidenced in The Expanse series, and they brought that same talent to their Old Mars contribution.
My only criticism might be that the characters sometimes suffer from the breakneck pace. We never get to know them particularly well, and as a result our hatred of the Ikkeans isn’t as fiery as it might have been, and we don’t cheer quite as loudly when our heroes overcome the alien dangers against all odds. It’s a short story, I know, and an author must make executive decisions about how to fill their word limit, but I did wish at the end for a closer attachment to the crew. Perhaps if the world of A Man Without Honor got the same treatment as The Expanse, that could be remedied?
One can always hope!