Published by Parvus Press on October 4th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
When I was first offered a copy of Vick’s Vultures for review, the press release promised a mix of Firefly and Mad Max. That was enough to catch my interest. When I had a chance to talk with Scott Warren about the book, he also mentioned Discworld having influenced his tone. That was enough to pique my interest. When I actually sat down to read it, I discovered that its Firefly sense of roguish adventure was cut with a good deal of Star Trek vibes. That was enough to sustain my interest.
I loved the concept of this right from the start. Humanity has progressed to the point where we’re a legitimate star-faring race, but in doing so we’ve discovered how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. Races like the Malagath, the Dirregaunt, and the Kossovoldt have been around for eons, progressing far beyond anything to which we could aspire. They are the forces of power in the universe, with each of them controlling thousands of worlds. In order to compete, we have legitimized a form of interstellar piracy, scavenging alien ships for whatever technology and secrets we can, making our own ships into mechanical monstrosities of mismatch technology.
Culturally, those races have progressed beyond us as well, although that’s actually to our advantage. While they may have the advantage of numbers, and may outclass us in terms of speed and firepower, they lack our passionate edge. When it comes right down to it, none of them are prepared for how sneaky, how clever, or how self-sacrificing we can be – and our backwards technology has actually led us to being something of a spacewalker bogeyman. It’s something of a running joke in the novel, but it’s also a lot of fun.
The story begins with Captain Victoria Marin and her crew discovering a derelict Malagath ship. As surprised as they are to find survivors on board, they are even more surprised to find that First Prince Tavram, heir apparent to the Malagath, is among of them. What began as a salvage operation turns into something of a rescue, albeit one for which they expect to be paid well. Complicating matters is pursuit by the same Dirregaunt ship that betrayed the Prince, aided by the hive-mind Graylings, who have a particular hatred (and hunger) for humanity. When late-breaking orders from Earth threaten to undermine everything Captain Marin has accomplished, things get even more intense.
I know, it sounds nothing like Star Trek’s happy optimism, but it does capture the vibe of Enterprise exploration, Original Series adventure, and Deep Space Nine grimness – along with Mad Max’s inspired scavenging, and Firefly’s roguish culture. There’s a lot of space opera action here, mixed with equal amounts humor and horror. The pacing is just this side of breakneck, and more jaded readers will be pleased to know that it never devolves into unnecessary romance. As for the aliens, they are fantastic creations, falling anywhere recognizably bipedal to six-legged monstrosities. There’s enough science to really establish the gap between human and alien technologies, and some really inventive ways our backwards methods and primitive tools are put to use.
All-in-all, Vick’s Vultures is a lot of fun, and a book that completely delivers on its premise. It subverts a lot of our expectations, and does so to make for a stronger, more enjoyable story.