Valeria Valdes’ 2019 debut novel Chilling Effectis the first volume in her Chilling Effect series.
Interstellar gates provided humanity access to the stars. The latest member of the galaxy-spanning Benevolent Organization of Federated Astrostates, humans are valued for two attributes: their willingness to have sex with just about anything and their expendability.
Eva Innocente, Captain of the starship La Sirena Negra, has turned her back on her family and their shady deals. No longer will she and her crew be sent off on dangerous errands without sufficient information. Now she and the rest of the crew of La Sirena Negra eke out a meagre living delivering legitimate cargoes from point A to point B.
One day it all goes wrong.
The galactic crime network the Fridge informs Eva that they have kidnapped Eva’s estranged sister Mari. Having carefully assessed Eva’s family’s assets, the Fridge concluded that Eva is the sole member whose services could buy Mari’s life. All Eva needs to do is run some dangerous errands without sufficient information.
Eva does not have to say yes. She could go her way. All that would happen is that Mari would be put into cold sleep for the remainder of Eva’s life, then thawed to spend the remainder of Mari’s life toiling in an unpleasant asteroid mine for as long as it took to kill her. Of course, Eva does say yes — but to spare her crew unnecessary stress, she conceals from them the reason that their commissions are ever more weird and dangerous.
Eva’s troubles are compounded when an alien demands she have sex with him, after the manner of humans. She treats this demand with the contempt it deserves; only afterward does she discover that the fish-faced alien is a powerful emperor, vindictive enough to mount a vendetta and rich enough to fund it. It’s not enough that she has to run errands for ruthless criminals. Now there is a price on her head.
It can still get much worse. Eventually her crew will discover that Eva has been lying by omission. What then?
A warning to various melancholy canines: not only does Eva flavour her vernacular with Spanish, none of it is translated. Enjoy encountering some of the rich Ropa Vieja of the modern American linguistic landscape.
Eva’s family may sound like bad news, but once the reader gets to know them, they are revealed as really really terrible people (apart from Eva’s mother, who does not appear in this book). None of them would hesitate to deceive and cheat Eva before embussening her. Each of them would argue that they have good reason to act as they do, but to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, they would say that, wouldn’t they?
Space operas involving diverse found families are becoming a subgenre. Someone should invent a name for it1.
This is a fair example of the type: galactic scale hijinks, a galaxy full of surprisingly plug-compatible, comprehensible2 aliens, sympathetic human leads, unsympathetic organizations running the Milky Way. The details of galactic history are fleshed out only to the degree the plot requires.
This is a comedy-adventure. Expect lots of brushes with death. It’s also an ongoing series focused on Eva. Expect her to survive, if only barely. That said, where Eva goes, expect chaos and heavily armed alien warships to follow. In this novel the collateral damage is at least one city and at least one space station. But to quote another franchise, it’s not her fault.
My homeopathic sense of humour means I am not the target market for this. You may be.
1: “Books from which one can borrow shamelessly for Traveller campaigns” is both accurate and not quite the right name.
2: The exception being the long-vanished aliens who built the gate network everyone else uses. I’d say “don’t worry about those guys” except that the entire plot centres on finding their relics.