2013’s Earthrise is the first novel in the Her Instruments series, by the prolific M.C.A. Hogarth. It’s also the first Hogarth novel I have ever read. I picked it up for two reasons: it was free and I had heard others talk about it in a way that made me think the book might scratch my Traveller itch. Traveller, the old-time Dumarest meets the Solar Queen rpg that featured rag-tag crews making a slender living moving goods from system to system in beat-up starships.
As it turned out, there are indeed some Traveller-like elements in the book, but I was even more strongly reminded of an entirely different, considerably less well-known rpg. More on that later.
Reese Edding and the rest of her rag-tag crew—twins Sasha and Irvine, Bryer, Kis’eh’t, and Allacazam— do make a slender living moving good from system to system in the beat-up starship TMS Earthrise. The ship had a brush with insolvency before but was saved by a large gift from a mysterious benefactor. Well, not to much gift as a payment for a service to be named later.
Now that marker has come due.
Edding’s patron asks her to retrieve a spy from enemy territory. Not just any spy; Hirianthial is an Eldrich, a member of a stand-offish race of long-lived contact-telepaths. Eldrich are so rarely encountered that, in the normal course of things, Edding would never, ever have met one. Now she may end up with one as a passenger, possibly even a crew member.
That is, if the crew of the Earthrise can manage to escape the pirate cell in which they found themselves after their first attempt to survey enemy territory….
I was looking for something like a Traveller adventure turned into a book. Well, the crew is a bit like a standard Traveller crew. The battered and unreliable Earthrise does indeed remind me of the way Traveller helped role-players escape reality into a glorious fantasy of second careers, forty-year starship mortgages, and endless, endless maintenance bills. The pirates concealed in most every asteroid thicket were also somewhat Travelleresque.
But the crew aren’t all human. Most of them are Pelted, Terrestrial animals genetically engineered into intelligent humanoids. That reminded me of an entirely different old-time rpg, one considerably more obscure than Traveller. I speak, of course, of Other Suns. That may have been the very first rpg to feature anthropomorphic characters. Certainly it was the first one to feature anthropomorphics in a future history that was one part CoDominium to one part Have Spacesuit, Will Travel to one part that time the Helvetii decided to go up against Julius Caesar.
While I never actually played Other Suns , so cannot be entirely certain that it was playable as written, I did have a lot of fun playing around with the rule sets. It was pleasant to be reminded of youthful enthusiasms.
(The characters in this book aren’t all furries, mind you. Eldrich are elves. Space elves.)
The science and world-building in this book are soft and fluffy. About as convincing as ditto in the Solar Queen novels … which are also about a rag-tag crew in a marginal starship, although quite unlike Norton, the crew of the Earthrise is neither entirely (or even majority) human, nor all dudes. Norton may have been an influence on Hogarth, but I suspect that Hogarth was more likely to have been influenced by something more recent than Sargasso of Space ; the asteroid thicket and the porous fortifications and defective prison cells to prevent egress are very Star Warsian . (I think I could trace the tramp freighter in SPAAACE trope even further back … perhaps in my copious free time.)
One thing I did like about this book is that there is a lot of emphasis on the relationships (of various sorts) between crew members. It’s a small ship; they have to get along. Because they come from such an odd assortment of species and cultures (Edding is the sole human on board), the interactions are that much more complicated.
Earthrise is available here. It is free, or at least it was when I downloaded it.