Admiral (An Evagardian Novel)
By Sean Danker
Published: 3 May, 2016. Berkley Publishing Group.
Military Science Fiction
“I was on a dead ship on an unknown planet with three trainees freshly graduated into the Imperial Service. I tried to look on the bright side.”
It’s from this intriguing premise that Admiral, a back-to-basics survival story no doubt inspired by Andy Weir’s global phenomenon The Martian, kicks into gear. The last to be woken from stasis, our unnamed narrator, the Admiral of the title, is treated with a mixture of deference and suspicion by three trainees who think they’re on their way to a classy commission on board the Empress of Evagard’s new battleship, Julian. It’s not where they’ve found themselves, however. They are in the wrong place at the wrong time. And they have no idea whether or not they should trust their superior officer. In his defense, the Admiral doesn’t think he should be trusted. There’s a lot he’s not telling them. There’s a lot he’s not telling us, too, in all fairness. But before secrets can be revealed, there’s the small matter of finding out exactly where they are, what really happened, and how they can rescue the situation.
Admiral wears its influences on its sleeve. Apart from the aforementioned The Martian, which used science fact to balance the science fiction, as well as a playful use of humor to offset some of the more technical elements, the plot is a blend of Pitch Black (anti-hero, suspicious crew members, a nightmarish environment, fleeting glimpses of an alien threat), every Alien movie ever made, and Star Trek (galactic civilizations, interstellar war, diplomacy and politics). It’s a heady mix to be sure, and not all of it works.
It’s the end of a long and damaging war, in which the Evagardian Empire triumphed over Ganraen Commonwealth. Instead of waking up on the Julian, the Empire’s flagship, Ensign Nils, Private Salmagard, and Lieutenant Deilani find themselves on a battle-scarred starship that has apparently crash landed on an unknown planet, with its crew mysteriously absent. The only man who possibly has any answers is the Admiral – and he can’t possibly be an admiral, can he? He’s too young, he’s drug-addicted, and he lacks the political savvy commissioned officers of such a rank would normally wear comfortably. It’s an honorary commission, he tells them unconvincingly. But he’s their only hope in leaving their desolate environment in one piece.
The universe Admiral inhabits is vast, and information about how it came to be is drip-fed throughout this fast-paced action adventure. The timeline is at least two or three centuries in the future; Old Earth is mentioned many times. In fact, Salamagard is from there, and has had her face genetically modified to resemble the Empress herself. So that’s intriguing in itself.
This book has a small cast, and apart from reading the inner thoughts of the Admiral, all we learn about the other three crew members is through their interaction with him. Of the three, Deilani is most convincing. She truly does not trust our narrator but recognizes that she must cooperate with him if they’re to successfully escape their predicament.
The story proceeds in a predictable way. The foursome spot a problem; they find a solution to said problem; and then promptly land themselves in another even pricklier mess. This carries on throughout the book until the last-gasp attempt to leave the planet with an alien horde on their tales. You’ve read these stories before; you’ve seen this kind of movie many times.
But there is excitement to be found, too. In an age where the Deus Ex Machina has to be at least scientifically plausible, there is nothing wrong with lapping up the near-misses, the close-to-death action sequences, and the slightly forced comic banter between the characters that Admiral has to offer. I just wished that the last couple of chapters and the ultimate reveal weren’t as rushed and anti-climactic as they felt. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.
PLOT: It’s a lively book, well-paced, with a story that offers little that we haven’t read before. But having said that, even though I was disappointed with how the author revealed his hand, there’s enough going on to make me want to read further installments.
CHARACTERS: A small cast whom I found engaging enough. I would’ve liked a little more development of Nils and Salmagard, but I suspect this might’ve affected the pace of the novel. Still, though, an extra chapter could’ve added another notch.
SETTING: The planet itself is generic enough, straight out of Alien and Pitch Black central casting (even the aliens themselves are nothing extraordinary, perhaps because they’re introduced late into the proceedings), but I have to admit I’m very curious about the expanded universe. I want to know more about the Empire and the Commonwealth. I also want to know how the Admiral himself came to “be”.