STOLEN EARTH by J.T. Nicholas.
Titan Books. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Old Earth was abandoned in the 22nd century after humans and advanced artificial intelligence, along with some environmental considerations, essentially destroyed themselves along with 90% of the human population. Those who managed to flee, generations later, still dwell on various space stations, having been, as yet, unable to adapt any other planet to accommodate human life.
From promising naval recruit to, these days, something less desired, Captain Gray Lynch pilots the Arcus, an independent fight vessel of dubious missions, or pirate as you may call it. He left behind a 20-year legitimate career and all its hypocrisy and corruption and did it all without regret. His crew is competent, loyal and as reliable as you can get – outside of the legitimate world of the Sol Commonwealth.
Laurel Morales has a not dissimilar story to Lynch’s. Law enforcement turned pirate, she is capable and coldly efficient, and even if she does not enjoy all of the missions the Arcus takes on, she performs them all with business-like integrity and determination. Everyone onboard, including her, plays their part and gets the job done, which will definitely come in handy on their next mission. It is highly dangerous, crazy, more than a few might say, but for Gray, it won’t be his first time.
Stolen Earth has a delightful cast of characters. Another handful of Arcus crew members take up what page time they can vie for in this short but enjoyable sci-fi romp, each with spine and a little back story, along with an AI that is more than a little reminiscent of HAL 9000. What starts off as a pirates-in-space adventure delves deeper into a (possibly not all that impossible or far fetched) future where Earth’s resources were plundered beyond recovery, and more than a few poor choices led to the situation of humans having to exist off-planet.
The worldbuilding and characterisation are the strengths here, and whilst the pace is, for the most part, spot-on, towards the end, the narrative seems to rocket forward, covering too much ground too quickly, and the ending of the book feels premature. Certainly, there is room for a sequel, with more than just the big question to be resolved, but for a plot and themes that grant so much scope for reflection, for this reviewer, things felt too rushed and too neatly wrapped up. Or perhaps that was the author’s intention, given how much involvement the AI they call One has by the end?