Did you ever think that it might be fun if Scotty “beamed you up”?

I certainly did.

But that’s not quite the way it works out for Patricia Risden in Kidnapped by Maria Hammarblad. Oh, Tricia gets “beamed up” all right. And imprisoned. Because the world of the Alliance is a lot colder and bleaker than the Federation.

And Alliance Commander Travis isn’t like anyone on the Enterprise. Unless you’re thinking of the Mirror universe Enterprise. The one where the universe went very, very wrong.

But Travis isn’t quite that evil, although the Alliance that he serves is. Travis has just, well, misplaced his humanity. Tricia helps him find it again. All because he made a mistake. Two mistakes.

Travis’ first mistake was picking Tricia up in the first place. Travis was chasing a known revolutionary. Said revolutionary made a temporary stop on Earth. Very temporary, but just long enough to appear in front of Tricia’s car and cause her to have an accident.

Travis thought the revolutionary (his name is William) and Tricia knew each other. Travis whisked Tricia away when he couldn’t get to William.

Once Tricia was aboard his ship, he realized that Tricia was exactly what she appeared to be, a harmless Earth woman with no technological expertise whatsoever, and no knowledge of the Alliance or the Revolution against it.

But it was too late. Travis had already notified his Commander that he was bringing in a prisoner. Since she is harmless, he decides to give her the run of the ship.

That’s his second mistake. Tricia is harmless in any technical sense. But she is also bright, curious and dependent on him. Yes, she has more than a touch of Stockholm Syndrome. She sees him as a man, and not the murdering monster the rest of the Alliance sees.

Because Commander Travis is a murdering monster. He is an assassin and a butcher for the Alliance. He’s been programmed to be since he was a child. The last time he disobeyed, the Supreme Commander cut off his arm and replaced it with a mechanical one.

Tricia knows none of this. All she sees is her only possible way home. Her only companion. She falls in love with him.

Travis is a man under all his programming. Harmless Tricia finds the chink in his Alliance conditioning. And Travis re-programs all of his unswerving loyalty from serving the Alliance–to saving, and loving, the woman he kidnapped from Earth.

If they can both manage to survive everything the entire Alliance, and the Revolution, throw at them.

Escape Rating B-: The story gets off to a slow start. Travis is not a sympathetic character in the beginning, and Tricia definitely has more than a touch of Stockholm Syndrome. She goes from being scared of her kidnapper to falling in love with him.

It’s what happens after that that makes the story interesting. Travis has been so conditioned to serve the Alliance that he shouldn’t respond to Tricia at all. Instead, he falls too. But he can’t quite get rid of the Alliance conditioning, so he finds a way around it. His solution was pretty neat.

The Alliance Supreme Commander was just a bit too cartoon-villainess for my taste. The whole manipulative vampy-spacesuit sex-goddess thing just didn’t work for me. But the family-vibe of the Revolutionary ship did. Reminded me a bit of Firefly, which is never a bad thing.

Slip Point

The most fun part about Slip Point by Karalynn Lee can be described in two words: “Space Pirates!” It makes me grin every time I even think about it. And I defy anyone to not be reminded of Firefly, just a teeny little bit. Very shiny.

But the roots of Slip Point rest in an entirely different science fiction epic. At the opening of the story, Jayce and Shay are just a boy and a girl growing up on a backwater planet, dreaming of going into space. Pretty much like Luke Skywalker dreamed of getting off Tatooine. Or, come to think of it, the way that James T. Kirk dreamed of leaving that Iowa cornfield, and Jean-Luc Picard dreamed of leaving his family’s winery in France. All of them were once-upon-a-time planetbound children dreaming of space. But then, aren’t we all?

Jayce and Shay watch the ships coming to their “Steader” world, a planet that has deliberately chosen to use as little technology as possible. They are waiting until Shay is old enough to go off-planet and take the Academy entrance exams without her mother’s permission. Jayce is a few months older, and his family is less rigid about him remaining at the family “Hearth”. But then, Jayce has siblings and Shay is an only child, her father is long dead. Or so she has been told.

But when they finally take that exam, and Jayce and Shay are within moments of seeing all their dreams come true, Shay’s dreams shatter into pieces. Her father is not dead. Daddy Dearest is an infamous space pirate. And the Space Corps didn’t want any applicants whose parents were infamous, and infamously successful, pirates. Shay left her dreams behind in the recruitment office. Along with Jayce. She abandoned her best friend, her first and only lover, without a single word of explanation, because Jayce was able to fulfill their dream, and Shay couldn’t.

Shay took a completely different course. If her father kept her from joining the Space Corps, then she figured that he owed her a pilot’s berth. So Shay went looking for pirates.

Ten years later, Shay has become her father’s second-in-command. Not because she’s his daughter, but because she’s earned it. Not by being ruthless, but by being discriminating, and still profitable. Now he has a special job for her–a job that will involve government bureaucrats, newly discovered aliens, xenophobic terrorists, the Space Corps–and Jayce.

What Jayce can do to her heart is way more dangerous than anything the terrorists or even the military might possibly want to shoot her with.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed the world-building, and I liked the character of Shay quite a bit. She’s definitely a strong enough character to be in charge of her own ship. I found it refreshing that she didn’t wait around for someone to rescue her when her dreams fell apart, she created her own “plan B” and carried it out. At the same time, she did it with the kind of thoughtlessness that would be typical of someone that age, filled with anger that Jayce got the dream and she didn’t.

There are elements of other female space opera heroines in Shay, I saw a lot of Ky Vatta from Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series. That’s a good comparison, I loved the Vatta’s War series and wish there were more. There is also a space piracy element in Vatta.

Which brings me to the thing that bothered me. Because Shay’s planet has such restricted access, Space Corps must know that Shay hasn’t seen or heard from her father. Why does his existence bar her from entry into the Corps? Something wasn’t explained there, or I’m just used to the average Space Corps being way more omnipotent, or at least omni-aware, than this one.

Shay and Jayce haven’t seen each other in ten years, but they were each other’s first love, first kiss, first everything. She left a gaping hole in his heart when she ran out. They need some serious healing to find their way back to each other, and the story works through that. They don’t pick up where they left off, and it shouldn’t.

One last thing, this book is too short! I want more of this world.  The story needed more details and background than the author had time to tell. And there are all sorts of interesting things going on, including first contact. Let’s come back here again.

Better Days and other stories (Serenity volume 2)

Bottom line, it would be a better day if the Serenity were still flying. And while I’m wishing, I want Wash to still be her pilot, and the Shepherd to still be in the back, keeping his secrets and reading his book. Not to mention keeping that hair of his under control. If you watched the show, you know exactly what I mean.

In the meantime, we all keep the dream alive as best we can.

The graphic short story collection from Dark Horse Books, Better Days and other stories (Serenity, volume 2), is part of keeping that dream alive. This new, hardcover edition includes the story Better Days, which was originally published in 2008, plus three newer stories, The Other Half, Downtime, and the bittersweet Float Out.

All the stories except Float Out take place before the events of the movie Serenity, which is nostalgic but slightly confusing at this point. It’s great to see Wash and the Shepherd again, but I know they’re gone.

Better Days is one of the two best stories in the book. It’s about a job that both goes very, very well, and very, very badly. Which, come to think about it, seems pretty typical for our heroes. At the outset, they open a cache that contains way more money than they expected, and the crew of the Serenity is temporarily rich beyond their wildest dreams. Part of the story is telling each other what those dreams are, or living them while spending some of that lovely money.

The other part of the story is the bad luck part. They stole a weapon, and the Alliance wants it back. And Mal and Zoe, because somebody believes that Mal was a terrorist at the end of the war. As usual, the Alliance soldier is off the reservation, and he also has the wrong Browncoat in his sights. Also, as usual, Mal is too stubborn to admit that. The relationships between the crew were captured really well, including some laugh out loud bits.

Float Out is a different kind of story. Three of Wash’s old frenemies are sitting around telling stories about him, planning to drink to his memory. The stories are funny, and very typical Wash incidents–his questionable charm, his even more questionable fashion sense, his insane love of plastic dinosaurs, and his willingness to do absolutely anything to save his friends. Zoe saunters in at the last minute and provides the drinks for the toast. “Wash hated champagne.” I’m sure he did. The drink Zoe brings is a “quick drunk, but lots of fun.” Sounds like Wash, doesn’t it?

The two stories in the middle didn’t stick with me, but these two did. Better Days because Mal didn’t have any dreams of what he would do with all that cash–his dream is flying Serenity with his crew, keeping his “family” together, and he knows it. Being rich hurts his dreams, it doesn’t help them. Float Out was a good-bye kiss to Wash, and it was fine one.

Escape Rating A: I escaped back to the Serenity for a little while. Enough said.