Book Review: Starship Alchemon

Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

DISCLAIMER – I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publishers and NetGalley in return for an honest, unbiased review. My thanks to Angry Robot for allowing me to read and review this book.

This novel follows the lives of nine explorers aboard the titular starship, Alchemon, as they are despatched to the distant world of Sycamore to investigate an “anomalous biosignature”. What they find on Sycamore, and the events that transpire as they attempt to return their find back to Earth, make for what ultimately turns out to be a frenetic, high-stakes space adventure.

The first half of the novel focuses on the ship’s arrival at Sycamore and the crew’s discovery there of an apparently alien organism which they christen Bouncy Blue. What’s even more intriguing is the second organism they identify inside Bouncy Blue, a second organism they call Baby Blue (they’re an original bunch, these explorers). After a brief discussion they bring the organisms back aboard Alchemon and begin their journey back to Earth, and that’s when the trouble begins. Crewmembers start to act irrationally, equipment starts to malfunction, and the AI that oversees the ship begins to fall apart.

The narrative does start off quite slowly, though I suspect that’s got a lot to do with the various character arcs and threads the author has woven into this story. All nine characters aboard the Alchemon have something major to contribute to the narrative, and Hinz juggles the character development between the nine of them really well. Each character gets their own share of the limelight and while a few do seem to get the lion’s share in the second half of the story, none of them seem superficial or are ignored in any meaningful way.

Of all the characters perhaps the most interesting is LeaMarsa de Host, the ship’s resident psychic. It’s fairly obvious from the start that she’s going to be an integral part of the overall story arc, though the way in which Hinz plays with reader expectations surrounding the character is superlative. Right from the beginning of the story we’re given this sense of her being as much a part of the ship’s problems as the alien creature, though there are little flashes of insight that suggest she might be an unwitting party to what’s going on.

The action really begins to take off in the second half of the novel, though there are still a few twists and turns to come. The tension gets racked up to ten quickly, and with it the narrative really begins to gain pace. The final act fairly flies by, with a few characters falling by the wayside, and while I’ll admit the resolution does carry a bit of a whiff of deus ex machina it still fits within the framework Hinz has laid down in the four-hundred pages leading up to that point.

Despite the slow start, I was surprisingly satisfied with the way this novel turned out, and will certainly be adding Hinz to my list of authors to take a closer look at. If you’re a fan of modern space opera or like to have a touch of mystery in your science fiction then I’d say give this one a try. Definitely worth four out of five stars in my estimation.

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