Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s 1989 Carpe Diem is the third novel published in their long-running Liaden series.
Set upon by the predatory Yxtrang, Val Con yos’Phelium makes a desperate bid to escape into faster-than-light drive. It’s successful in the sense that Val Con and his companion Miri Robertson escape horrific deaths at the hands of the Yxtrang. It’s unsuccessful in that their badly damaged ship ends up in the back of beyond, orbiting the interdicted world of Vandar.
Briefly orbiting. A forced descent follows.
The pair make it to the surface of Vandar. It seems likely that they will remain there for the rest of their lives. The ship doesn’t carry the parts needed for repairs and an underdeveloped world like Vandar can’t make them. Since the world is off-limits to the interstellar community, no convenient traders will arrive give the pair a lift.
The planet may be backward and balkanized into feuding kingdoms, but it’s cosmopolitan enough to welcome the outworld strangers. Zhena Trelu of Springbreeze farm offers them a place to stay while they learn the language and culture.
Miri is a fighter (specializing in shooting and stabbing). Ditto Val Con, but with a minor in subterfuge. One might expect them to chafe at farm life. In fact, they find that their holiday in a bucolic backwater is just what they need. They’re both suffering from PTSD, thanks to a backstory we know only from glancing comments. They’re also turning into a couple rather than oddly assorted traveling companions.
Their old skills do come in handy from time to time, when they help fend off raiding parties from rival kingdoms. All in a day’s work.
Meanwhile, Val Con’s relatives, Clan Korval, are turning all their psychic resources toward tracking down the missing pair. Val Con and Miri’s skills are needed if Clan Korval is to avoid extinction at the hands of enemies.
This novel and the one before didn’t give me enough hints as to backstory that I could work out how this peculiar setting evolved. Either it’s far enough in the future that a myriad of worlds have been settled, some of which have been isolated and have regressed to pre-industrial tech OR some alien race like the Clutch Turtles has scattered humans of various cultural and technical backgrounds across the galaxy. There’s evidence for either scenario.
I was reminded a long-forgotten novel by Andrew J. Offutt, The Galactic Rejects, in which castaways are marooned on backwater worlds before being plunged back into the conflicts that marooned them in the first place. I’m fairly sure that authors Lee and Miller wouldn’t have read the Offutt novel. They’re probably just dipping from the same story pot that most human cultures share. Or it’s zeitgeist.
The characters are well sketched. The romance between leads of different cultures and temperaments develops in satisfying fashion (not too quickly to be unbelievable, not too slowly to be boring, not so inevitable that there’s no suspense). But … there’s something about this book (and the Liaden books in general) that just does not click with me. I know the series has avid fans, so it’s clear there’s something attractive there. What that might be I cannot say.