Stina Leicht’s 2020 Persephone Station is a standalone science fiction novel.
The United Republic of Worlds would give legal status to aliens like Persephone’s enigmatic inhabitants. Maybe so, but the self-styled Emissaries prefer to remain private and hidden. Accordingly, they have traded certain services to Vissia Corsini in exchange for Corsini using her de-facto control of the Serrao-Orlov Corporation’s local branch to conceal the Emissaries’ existence. They have also permitted the corporation to claim ownership of their world. From the Emissary standpoint, that doesn’t seem like a problem; thanks to Emissary misdirection, humans believe they can’t survive unprotected on Persephone.
The services they gave Corsini turned out to have an unfortunate catch. Corsini is pissed off and decides to take revenge. Her advantage: she controls Serrao-Orlov’s resources on Persephone and can certainly figure out ways to make the Emissaries regret their bargain.
Corsini takes advantage of a scheduled parlay to deliver an ultimatum: deliver what she wants or else. (To tell you what that is would be a spoiler.) To underline how serious she is, she has her mercenaries lightly shell the Emissary community. She assures them that intransigence will provoke even worse consequences. The Emissaries refuse to bend; not only that, but a rogue Emissary also manages to infect Corsini with a biological weapon. Now both the Emissaries and Corsini have deadlines.
Corsini also refuses to fold, She launches a mercenary strike on the Emissary’ community. Despite their talents with the biological arts, the Emissaries lack conventional weapons. Corsini is confident that the mercenaries can easily force their way into the Emissary community and retrieve what Corsini covets.
Enter Rosie, owner of Monk’s Bar. Monk’s Bar caters to Persephone’s criminal underclass. As it happens, Rosie is another one of the Emissaries’ chosen trade partners. Unlike Corsini, Rosie is satisfied with the results of her deal. Rather than leave the Emissaries to their doom, Rosie hires former soldier Angel and her ragtag collection of mercenaries to defend the aliens.
Good news! Angel and her crew are experienced veterans! Bad news! They are outnumbered and almost certainly outgunned. Success seems impossible. Survival itself is unlikely. But Angel and her pals will do their best.
Note to readers easily distracted by background details: there is a reason that the Emissaries look like humans. It’s not that they are humans or that evolution favour very humanoid forms.
Fans of Military SF may be used to books in which the cast is largely or entirely male (with the rare female characters about as convincing as a cardboard cut-out). This is not a MilSF book like those MilSF books. That said, there is ample evidence men do exist, if not on centre stage.
This is essentially The Seven Samurai1 IN SPAAACE except that instead of helpless peasants, the Emissaries are closer to Space Elves, technologically superior to humans in many ways, although not (due to historical reasons explained in the text2) in ways that involve violence. Thus the need for allies.
Also, Angel’s crew gets a much better deal than did the Japanese defenders in the original film or the Americans in the remake. Not that doing better than not losing 4/7ths of the cast is a particularly high bar. This means room for a sequel, one that thanks to certain developments in the plot will face the surviving characters with a serious Out of Context problem for which their mercenary backgrounds will ill-suit them. Which could be a lot of fun.
Pacing is a bit of a problem for this book: the author has a lot of characters and subplots to introduce, at least one of which I couldn’t manage to fit into this review. Once the pieces are in place, however, the plot accelerates nicely, as all the plot threads converge on the Emissary stronghold. The last half of the work is a very quick read.
1: The Seven Samurai has been remade as The Magnificent Seven for American audiences. Also remade in other countries, other settings, and other formats.
2: There are (I assume unintended) parallels with Golden Witchbreed, in that Persephone has a past the humans have misread. This is a universe that has seen many technological species. It is also one in which technological prowess and long-term survival are not tightly coupled.