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23 December 2013

Hardcover, published ACE, November 2013

I should admit from the start that I’ve never read one of this author’s books that I didn’t like, didn’t expect this to be the exception and it wasn’t. In fact of the “Priscilla Hutchins” series, I enjoyed this most of all. I believe that many authors who’ve written a series eventually want to go back and write a book that starts with the character’s earlier life and events. It was why Andre Norton wrote Horn Crown. And this is what Mr. McDevitt has done with Starhawk. He’s taken Priscilla later known as ‘Hutch’ – back several years before the events of the first in the series ((The Engines of God) and shows her as a young woman, eager to become a certified pilot, with daydreams of heroism, a journal in which she writes spasmodically, a cat-lover, and who has a mother who can exasperate Hutch at times. (There’s this nice young man I want you to meet. And, I think you should take a safer job at home.) Hutch is a normal woman at the start of a career she loves,

The book starts out with Hutch, a few months before her certification as a pilot, at the Union Space Station, The Wheel, having a meal and being interrupted by an old friend with strong views. A fight between the friend and another diner is narrowly averted and he and Hutch part. Hmmm, interesting, I thought. And it was. The book shifted next chapter into Hutch’s certification flight in which things begin to happen when they receive a distress call that another ship may have a bomb on board and the passengers need to be evactuated. Problem is that the smaller ship Hutch is flying doesn’t have the capacity to take all the passengers. So how will she and her trainer, Jake, manage the crisis, and who put a bomb on an intersteller passenger ship and why? A question that ties in with the argument Priscilla’s friend had at The Wheel and with whom he had it. With that flight concluded, Hutch has her certification and takes a pilot’s job with a major company involved in terraforming a new planet to Terran specifications. Unhappy with some of what is going on she resigns and accepts instead employment with an organization where she is working more as an administrator than a pilot.

Things go from bad to worse with Hutch having to make life or death choices, and likely to be damned whatever choice she makes. In the process she’ll lose friends, find that her personal life suffers, but that given everything she’d still rather be a pilot than anything else. In the broader sense of the story this is about a woman whose choices are not always conventional, but whose desire for her chosen career is over-mastering. She will give up everything perhaps even her life to be what she wants to be.

As always with this series I loved the news headlines that conclude each chapter. They provide a wider picture of events of the day and in a noirish amusement show that ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ I also particularly liked the small neat salute to Heinlein on page 256. This look at Priscilla Hutchins’ earlier life is fascinating, involving, and the characters come across as real people. The events are always believable, while being amusing, awful, alarming, and thought-provoking in turns. The small on-going thread of her dislike of her own name, and also her dislike of the very pedestrian name of one of the ships that she flies and which she rechristens are a quiet thread of both something understandable and typical of even today. Finding a name that befits a star ship is similar to the attempts of many girls to find a fittingly romantic name for their pony, while Hutch’s attempts to find a nickname for herself that she likes is also familiar territory.  And if you haven’t read any of this series before, run, do not walk to the nearest place you can acquire Starhawk and buy it and the rest of the books. This is one of those series that is what SF should be and I recommend it.

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