In the years since the last Slug War, Jason’s command style hasn’t made him any friends in the Army. Now, in an effort to keep him out of trouble, the Army has sent Jason to the vast, Earth-orbiting resort called New Moon. At the core of this enormous space station is a starship, a relic from the last war.
When a test run of the ship goes wrong, Jason, along with a handful of others, will be torn from orbit and thrust into space. Now, stranded on an alien planet, Jason realizes that not only are his friends are looking to him for rescue, but an entire planet sees him as their only hope.
Orphan’s Journey is the third book in the Jason Wander series from Robert Buettner, preceded by Orphanage and Orphan’s Destiny. I’ve enjoyed the first two books in the series very much and this one has been steadily making its way up my to-read pile over the past few months, although why I never got around to it sooner is beyond me (I’ll be saying that about the sequels too). So was it as enjoyable as those first two? Damn right it was, plus it opens open the universe of Jason Wander more than I could have hoped!
With years gone by since the last slug attack on Earth and mankind has recovered from the last invasion. With the old slug ship at the centre of a new orbital station mankind is slowly stretching away from the confines of Earth, although interstellar travel is still not within reach. Jason, his godson Jude, Ord and Howard are part of the crew that are testing the old slug ship and with Jude’s exceptionally quick reflexes due to his space-born heritage, progress is made – a little too quickly. What follows is a journey farther than they could imagine to an alien planet where the past has some interesting revelations.
As I said before, I really enjoyed the previous entries in this series but one thing that I was always hoping was that Buettner would break away from the military sci-fi confines of the original story. While this aspect is ever present from start through to conclusion, the break away is clearly something he knows must be done, and boy does he do it well. To be fair, the first part of the story in Earth orbit on New Moon is fairly predictable and proceeds to give a nice recap on events and the history since the last book. Once the old slug ship is powered up and sent on its run out of the solar system the story kicks up a gear and takes us into a new and exciting area.
It’s when Jason and co. find themselves on this new planet that Buettner is able to flex his story-telling muscles and deliver a wider scope of story. We have a first contact-type situation and find out a little more about the inhabitants of the planet and their cultural diversity, the way history has shaped them to be what they are. Howard is in his element with all the various creatures he discovers and while he suspects what has happened on this planet, we don’t find out until much later in the story. This is both good and bad, because the moment we meet the people of this new planet questions instantly come about and it sometimes feels that these aren’t going to be answered – it certainly isn’t something that Jason is particularly bothered about, or at least he rarely shows it (and when he does he attention is quickly drawn away).
The big plot device for Orphan’s Journey is Cavorite. It’s a substance that allows the slugs to travel between stars but has the rather unfortunate side affect that it is deadly to them. However, it has no effect at all on humans. With the planet Jason is on a rich resource of the substance, a slug presence is inevitable. This is where the core of the story lies and allows Buettner to tell a very interesting and quickly paced story – so much so that the 400 pages flew by. How so much was crammed in there I just don’t know, but it was thoroughly enjoyable.
Of course, what would the story be without its main characters? Once again we see everything through Jason’s eyes, but this time it is a more mature slant on the world and it feels like a better experience. Howard, Ord and Jude are all well suited and fit in very easily, the newcomer Jude being a refreshing change from the military viewpoint. The inhabitants of this new planet are also unique and interesting, their ways allowing us another perspective on the story.
All in all Orphan’s Journey was certainly that – a journey beyond the foundations set in the first two books. It took an interesting story and gave it new direction which felt fresh, allowing the future novels to expand nicely once again. While the military sf aspect is as present as always, the change in direction helped enormously and has easily made this a series that I really looking forward to finishing. Highly recommended.