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Book Review - Interstellar Wars – Pike Chronicles

Book Review - Interstellar Wars – Pike Chronicles

I have only just started reading this series of five book and as such this is very much first impressions and admit that they may well change as I continue to read. That in itself is a point in the series’ favour as there are many books that I have simply put down one day and never picked up again (much like a roleplaying campaign that simply ended – the characters forever stuck in limbo, having failed to defeat the Dark Lord). I hold that the reader should read at least a hundred pages of book and it takes impressive inertia to grind me to a halt before that point (though I confess to not getting past page 3 of Fifty Shades of Grey and have utterly no intention of watching the movie). So, having finished the first book I think I am well past the point of sacking it off.


I will move onto the story, but I think it best to start with the protagonist – Jon. Classic sad backstory – dead wife and kids that set him on the road to becoming the greatest warrior in the universe with morals to rival Galahad. He truly is the classic paladin archetype – tall, chiselled features, super strong and generally all-round athlete, oh, did I mention effectively immortal. Yup, all this thanks to a sentient alien parasite. That said, it does occasionally make him do un-paladin things like kill unimportant bad guys out of an acute sense of self-preservation. Did I also mention he is a massive xenophobic knobhead with a penchant for spending the lives of his crew like a kid in a sweetshop with a pocket full of pennies? His reasoning – they are military therefore that is what they signed up for. When the shit hits the fan, he is first off the bridge, dragging his new bit of squeeze down to his own personal lifeboat without looking back over his shoulder once. What a dude!




On to the story.

Our hero is sent on a mission across a universe teeming with aliens looking for lost colonies of humans. After a diaspora through stargates that have since been closed half a millennium ago the colonies are now cut off. He is equipped with a starship that can jump huge swathes of space while all the rest of the universe must rely on the network of stargates and relatively slow faster than light engines (which takes months just to reach the nearest stars). With him on this quest are some alien advisors, a mate (also heroic but not quite) and a few other human elites (think Star Trek or possibly Babylon 5 for those with long memories).


With a jump range of 50 light years and five jumps out from the Solar System, they reach a binary star system (giant stars in a mutual munch competition). Around this binary and therefore a considerable distance they also scan an asteroid belt to which they set a course.


Interlude - Time for a bit of astronomy.


According to this website (www.atlasoftheuniverse.com/250lys.html) there are around 260,000 stars within the 250ly radius out from Earth (Sol/Solar System). While not many compared to the quantity of stars within the galaxy that is still a lot of stars. As to the system, it is quite a dense belt as the ship clatters through a fair number of small rocks (compared to the small craft sent to the outer planets in our system that encountered effectively nothing). The point is these statements is to reinforce the perception that this region of space is both an infinitesimally small patch of the asteroid belt (I gave up when the calculations of relative volume started to veer towards 1 in a billion*) in just 1 of 260,000 stars.


‘So what’, I hear you ask? Well, it just so happens that this utterly random location is both protected by automated defences and populated by a small band of humans, yup, that’s right, Humans. Coincidences happen all the time; move on. So after a brief fight following a misunderstanding, Jon recovers a life pod.


We are given a tiny snippet of the history of these humans which essentially boils down to vagabonds, robbing alien freighters from an adjacent system just beyond a stargate (which also happens to be in this 1 of 260,000 possible systems the ship could have jumped to). This reiving activity is something these vagabonds have been doing for generations without giving their presence away.


So it comes as something of a shock that just as Jon’s ship approaches this secret stargate a bloody great battleship owned by the aggrieved aliens happens to pop out of the stargate – the first ever to venture into this system.
Now we have not only got an improbable scenario in terms of volume of space but also time in terms of minutes against generations (decades, possibly even more than a century – 52 million hours).


Cue the scene from the Fast Show, ‘[A]nd the same numbers came up again the next week. That was another few million quid; which was nice.’
Did I mention that the two survivors in the life pod turned out to be a rather beautiful and athletic woman who didn’t like her now dead husband (demise courtesy of the good captain) and her adorable little daughter who instantly took a shine to our captain?
Apparently, that last bit was the straw that broke the camel’s back for my wife. She was happy with astronomically improbable chances in terms of space and time, but the perfect missing jigsaw piece to the captain’s life was too much. What can I say, I do physics, she does Love Island.


Physics…


I could bang on about the jump drive and its seeming ability to use a perfect navigation system such that it can jump light years and arrive with absolute precision.
You know what, I think I will.



Don’t get me wrong, I can accept that two fixed positions in space, i.e. stargates, could become connected (entangled or whatever handwavium terminology floats your boat) but as for jumping to an unfixed destination? Hell, we can’t even decide on a fixed point from which to measure the heights of mountains (mean sea level, the centre of the Earth’s volume or even the theoretical gravitational centre of the Earth). In a system with mutually orbiting stars, orbiting the galactic core and accounting for possible variance in the galactic rate of expansion I’m disinclined to believe that a jump can be plotted to within a few hundred metres. I would be happier with a precision of a few light seconds for a relatively close jump, possibly a few light minutes for a jump of a few light years with a definite warping effect due to gravity wells (to stop you ending up inside something when you arrive). It just feels too much like absolute geometry for a system the data from which is centuries out of date by dint of the speed of light and application of the theory of relativity.


Has this stopped me reading the book? Not a bit of it. The action is great, people are being killed in new and interesting ways and seemingly invincible technology in one scene is redundant outdated scrap in the next. Aliens are two-dimensional and clearly bad-uns and yes, this extends to the allies of humanity. Aliens also come in two types – monsters from DnD (hairy with lots of teeth) or deadpan features with the appearance of three-day-old fish on the Morrisons seafood counter. When the aliens’ plans fail, when they are put down like rabid animals and when our hero and accompanying humans triumph through grit, determination and exploiting the sheer hubris of their alien opponents, we cheer enthusiastically – Hewmens Rool.


I suppose this qualifies as a rather good roleplaying adventure where the players have rifled through the mechanics (and forums) in order to min-max their characters. The GM has spent a fair amount of time writing encounters for vagabond humans, a love interest and multiple unambiguous enemies along with an attempt at mutiny and concluding with a massive setback. As such the players will encounter vagabond humans, a love interest and multiple unambiguous enemies along with an attempt at mutiny and conclude with a massive setback. As to the ramifications of their actions, the players give them as much thought as a person sawing at the trunk end of a tree branch he is sitting on and are seemingly reliant on the GM wanting to continue running the game. As a result, a fair amount of poetic license and stretching probability will be used to keep the plot moving in a favourable direction. And I forgot there must be a highly unlikely betrayal tagged into the massive setback. This will be revealed later but by this point we are almost prepared to believe in ‘Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs’ so crack on.





In summary I would class this as a fun read but don’t look for something with the political entanglement of James Corey (Expansion) or even the twists and turns and general grit of Neal Asher (Polity Universe). This is an uncomplicated plot and set of characters that might well evolve or just as likely remain as improbable but most definitely easy reading. Having just finished five books from the Amber series where anything up to three pages could be spent explaining how the deserts of the Sahara change one element at a time into the chaos of splotchery-sploo and in retrospect seemingly feck-all happened between page 1 and the end of book 3, it is refreshing change of pace. I just hope he spends a bit of time fleshing out some of the NPC’s he kills. So far, the protagonists always seem to be at the front except when a new weapon or ambush turns almost everybody into bloody pulp; then they are conveniently off to one side or knocked out. That said, I don’t want him to go full Gemmel; describing a new character for a page, detailing backstory, love of cats, the annoying hole in his boot and house he is saving up for. Then on the next page have Waylander kill him with the classic spin on the heel and elbow to the throat.
I am honestly looking forward to reading the rest of the series though the astrophysicist side of me is anticipating a 3d6 San loss resulting in rocking back and forth, chanting, ‘in space things move at the required speed of the narrative.’



*I did some fag-packet maths based on our own asteroid belt and relative distance between the larger asteroids (which to be fair is a very diffuse belt). There are probably around 1.5 million rocks larger than a km. Presuming giant class stars, we are talking potentially orders of magnitude more rocks even at relatively low densities.
This ended up requiring the ship to be moving at a hundred times the speed of the Voyager probes (so somewhere in the region of half a million kilometres per hour) to even begin to pose some sort of potential navigation issue. The field could be much denser but that then has the issue of even more rocks to arm.
Scale precludes the ability to defend it all and the arrival of a couple of starships on the scene within moments of breaking free from the intense automated assault further implies that the humans must have been relatively close (a few million thousand kilometres maybe?).


Also, if you are trying to keep a low profile, why would you defend an entire belt, giving away your presence the first time somebody ventured into the belt. In fact why would you even open fire before they all but found your secret base?







 
News
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  Star Date: 220.45.1

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Perfidion Reached

Long speculated by theoretical Stellar Cartographers, Perfidion Reach finally opened in the last few weeks. Immediately, the Detinus Republic boldly staked a claim on the first accessible system, Hellcadium. Only time will tell the true value of this strategic move but their much-taunted bureaucracy may have finally proved its worth.

Early reports from scans of the system reveal a wildly fluctuating ISR field. Rumours suggest that at least one ship was destroyed as it was forced into an asteroid belt chasing a stable jump field attempting to exit the system. Casual travellers are warned away from the system at this time for their own safety. Leave it to skilled explorers and navigation officers.

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Mathematical model of Hellcadium ISR Field.

We spoke to Captain Zakiyah Ummahi via subspace link. Zakiyah led the first DEN expedition into the Perfidion Reach. "Spirits remain high but this is largely down to the extended R&R we were all forced to take immediately prior to jumping into this hole. Initial scouting reports show at least one planet with plenty of forests and grasslands which might help if we're going to be stuck here for Folkvar knows how long waiting for this damned ISR field to stabilise."

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Valhalla Stargate Reopens

Dewiek engineers and scientists have finally managed to re-enable Stargate Valgrind this week and the protective Exclusion Zone is to be lifted. If DEN investigators discovered who caused the gate to malfunction, or why, they were not willing to share it with us. Military sources, however, have announced a project to provide a significant boost to the already formidable defence platform in the stargate’s orbit.

 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***

Empire - DEN action grinds to a halt

After months of tension relations between the Empire and the Dewiek Nation, which rose to several large scale fleet actions ending in the DEN losing over 60 Direwolf warships in Solo, things appear to have moved from antagonistic to unfriendly. With the Solo system being a particular issue an agreement has been reached between the Wolf Mother of the DEN and Xavier Fox of the GTT. Since this things have become very quiet, not just because the shooting has stopped, but also because my reporters have been on their summer holidays.
 
News For Discerning Naplians!
---- Special Galactic Edition ----



(The Host sits at his desk as the studio lights dim, and a single spotlight bathes him in light. He looks straight into the camera and begins to speak: )

Host: Naambta!
Good Greetings, and welcome to the show.

This is News for Discerning Naplians, and i’m sure you are all showing much impatience to see this week’s Panel Discussion. We will be discussing religion with the Lady Ghadir of the Temple of Ya Zoon, renowned neo-naplian spiritualist Chairman TonTon, and a very special guest from our imperial neighbours, Bishop Samantha Porteus of the Brotherhood. But before we get to that...

(Looks demonstratively at his digital wrist watch. )

... it is time for a word from our sponsor.
 
******Empire Syndicated News Network (ESNN) ******

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Welcome to the latest version of ESNN, giving the news and views from the ESNN's reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, making this the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe from our new home in the Heartland,

And so with the news from the last few weeks,
 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***
  • DEN assault FEL base and get wiped out
  • CIA Trade fleet caught and destroyed by the DEN
  • Krell denounce worship of the True One

  •  
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Huge fleet skirmish at the London/Crossley wormhole

    A large fleet of over 700 DEN warships responded to the EMP action in Crossley, where a 4000 hull DEN platform was destroyed. Reports show the DEN ships caught a group of CIA ships napping and inflicted significant losses on the humans. IMP and GTT fleets moved to assist the CIA, matching DEN fleet numbers, but the arrival of over 1200 Hexamon ships seems to have tipped the battle in favour of the DEN-HEX alliance.

    The combined DEN-HEX force pushed through the wormhole into the Heartland area of human space and retaliated, attacking several CIA platforms in response. The outnumbered Empire fleets abandoned the area and fled, they are currently waiting for the larger alien force to make their next move from their hiding places.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Admiral Lord Simms killed after a long and distinguished service to the Empire.

    The Imperial Services have intercepted and serious damaged several DEN ships on the way to the Empire’s home systems. Unfortunately during the action Admiral Lord Simms was injured and reports from the Viceroy indicate he has passed away, fighting the enemies of the Empire like any true Imperial Officer.

    The Viceroy has stated that the officers and crew of the DEN ships have been captured and are now awaiting trial at a secret IMP base.

    DEN continue to strike at the Empire

    Reports are coming in of multiple engagements between the Empire and the Dewiek Elder Nation over the last week. With several battles taking out Empire ships in the Heartland of the CIA.

    AFT turn to piracy

    The Association of Free Traders have, after a long history of neutrality, turned to piracy this week. AFT Drake boarded an IND ship in the Halo periphery, killing several of the crew in the process.
    Independent trader Jarlebanke Langhofdi immediately took to the public communication channel demanding an answer to why supposedly peaceful traders had killed his crew and taken his ship.

    The AFT remain silent over the attack.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Combat Special Edition

    Since the DEN started shooting at those lovable FEL fluffballs things have certainly been heating up. So we through it would be prudent to bring you, gentle beings of the peripheries, a special edition in order to keep you updated with all the latest action in regards to who the DEN are shooting and who is shooting them.

    Felini strike back at Dewiek

    Reports have come in of the FEL striking back at the DEN in the Kallisan system. A huge FEL force supported by the IMP and CIA assaulted DEN positions taking both the platform and base called Lucien. There was much rejoicing in the FEL camp as the Felini proved they were not such lovable fluffballs after all!

    GTT get sucked into the war

    A passing fleet of GTT warships got caught in the fighting and this saw the GTT enter the war. When asked about this CEO Fox pointed out they are not warships at all, they are trade defence ships. So how they came to be in the DEN system of Kallisan is a mystery to us. But the GTT CEO was clear that they only engaged using support and defend orders to protect allies. Needless to say, the CEO commented “We found ourselves on the Dewiek Nation’s enemy lists pretty soon after.”

    Dewiek Nation attacks GTT positions in Orion Spur, breaking DOM system rules

    A fleet of DEN warships has engaged and destroyed a significant number of GTT cargo ships and escorts in the DOM system Monument. The GTT immediately took to the public channels to ask why the DOM were not doing something. In reply the DOM issued a statement to stop, which the DEN ignored.

    The DEN newssheet "The HOWL" published a completely unbiased review of the attack shortly after.

    DOM make a choice

    After the above incident and then further raiding by the DEN, taking out a few GTT cargo ships in the DOM system of Coptuv, the DOM seemed to have been faced with a choice of stopping drinking their tea and doing something or just hoping it would go away. Instead they seem to have decided to abandon the whole idea of being an active affiliation and we have since folded. The lengths some people will go to not to have their elevenses disturbed is truly staggering. We asked the DOM for a statement on their new system rules to share with our readers but have received no replies.

    DOM positions share out

    Just as we were going to press news has come in of various DOM assets being given to other affiliations or sold. Hopefully we will have more on this story in the next issue of your favorite factual newsheet. Yes, that's us at the SSS.

    *** Affiliations ***


    AFT Association of Free Traders (54) - Marion Tweedy
    CIA Combined Intelligence Agency (64) - Laton CIA
    DNA Displaced Natives Asylum (66) - DNA people
    DTR Detinus Republic (58) - Morley Decker
    DEN Dewiek Elder Nation (67) - Urd
    DOM Dominion (57) – we believe the DOM are now inactive
    FCN Falconian Republic (70) - Bacran
    FEL Felini Tyranny (49) - Juris
    FLZ Flagritz Republic (47) - Kayxaer
    FET Frontier Exploration & Trade (56) - Cu Chulainn
    GRC Gracians (13) - HG1
    GTT Galactic Trade & Transport (52) - Xavier Fox
    GCE Garcia Enterprises (4) - Neil
    HEX Hexamon (23) - Ando
    IMP Imperial Services (51) - Jack Jones
    KRL Krell (30) - Namica
    KRT Krell of the Reverence Temple (37) - Kal Torak
    KST Kastor Kastorians (12) - Kastor
    MZC Mizuchi Combine (86) - Mizuchi
    MOH Mohache (73) - Listens
    MIC Mohache Independent Commune (76) - Sleeps with Dragons
    NLF Naplian Liberation Front (38) - NLFHQ
    RIP Regularly Involved in Piracy - Githyanki
    RRH Roy Robert Holdings (39) - Roy Roberts
    SMS Stellar Mining and Smelting (53) - MikhailM
    USN Ulian Stellar Nation (34) - Oeipus Prime
    WMB Wimble Nations (25) - zz

    * Leader MAY be inactive, affiliation may be active
    ** Affiliation has no leader but this is the only known contact

    NPC / FoC: ARC, CIV, CGT, FRE, HBO, HEF, IND, ISP, JCN, MEK, MRC, PIR, PRV, TCA, TRN, KAS

    Inactive: ANT, BHD, COD, HVE, IDC, RIP, RCF, SKW, TAG

    Deceased: CAL

    *** Submission ***

    By private message to The Editor or via Mica if you prefer to remain anonymous.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    New pirate threat rocks Corward Arm.

    Several large pirate ships have been spotted in outer rings of Corward systems. Reports forwarded to us at the SSS allow us to exclusively tell readers that traders should keep their wits about them when moving through these areas.

    No existing pirate menace has yet claimed ownership.

    In a possibly unrelated event one of the FET cartel members claimed nothing was happening in the outer ring of Coptov shortly afterwards. But it could be that they are still trying to catch Empire backed pirates and have nothing to do with the new sightings.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****


    DEN continue to shoot innocents

    The Dewiek have made themselves busy shooting at the peaceful and innocent traders of the SSL. Leader of Solar Spices and Liquors Mr TOAD has been vocal pointing out that the Beast-DEN are being totally unfair. News of a go-fund-me appeal are yet to surface though.

    This office is sure that it must have provided the DEN light relief after picking on the equally defenceless Felini. Word is that the DEN faced such an uphill struggle in these recent actions they had to take up Felini inter-breeding to provide some entertainment as the battle reports were rather boring.
     

    Free Ship when you sign-up
    Complete missions for in game rewards
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    Discover new worlds to explore, exploit & colonise
    Over 20 years of content development
    Persistent Browser-Based Game (PBBG)

    I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

    Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
    -Zigic