Hegemony by Mark Kalina - indie series debut with strong Honorverse echoes
INTRODUCTION: "The Hegemony of Suns is the greatest of the empires of mankind that have spread out through space from an abandoned and dying Earth. The Hegemony's vast warships dominate the skies over a hundred worlds, protecting its subjects and enforcing its will.
The interceptor pilots of the Hegemonic Fleet are the cutting edge of the Hegemony's military might, the tip of the spear. In a split second, they can decide the outcome of a battle that can affect the fates of whole star systems. The life expectancy of an interceptor pilot is measured in minutes. It's debatable if they're still human. It's debatable if they're even alive to begin with.
Alekzandra Neel has attained what she sought; a place among the stars, a chance to be an interceptor pilot of the Hegemonic Fleet. She doesn't expect it to be safe or easy. But as war clouds gather and billions look to the skies with nervous fear, she has no idea what the real cost could be."
On looking through recent Smashwords novels, I encountered Mark Kalina's debut, Hegemony, which attracted me by its blurb and then by the sample. As I did not have enough asap books to read, I bought this one too expecting a quick engaging read and while it indeed proved to be such, it was also more as the book starts a series with an extremely compelling universe.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: From the way it started - freighters making FTL transit to an important but isolated location and an all around sense of quiet menace, Hegemony strongly reminded me of the early Honorverse books, while later when the novel's center of gravity shifted from Alekzandra (Zandy), to Demi-Captain Freya Tralk, a young up and coming ship captain, not originally from the aristocracy but with powerful protectors there and now of course a member of it as all ship officers and pilots are, the similarities deepened.
However, there are also some major differences in so far the Hegemony (the Polity here, not the novel of course) is completely dominated by the aristocracy who in a quite original twist, are all neural net humans.There is a good explanation of the setup explaining the one way transition from flesh to quantum state which can be embodied in avatars, but not duplicated, the way the Church treats it, the way it works in practice - costs, benefits, reasons and that is one of the major strengths of the novel.
The opposition who so far seem to be all bad guys with no subtlety - though again it is early - are a sort of atheist People's Republic with generally dumb but powerful commissars on board and set on conquest and on mischief. They have a structural disadvantage to the Hegemony as their ideology regards the neural net humans as "missile guidance units with delusions of humanity", so their ships are crewed by flesh humans, hence much lower accelerations, time needed to recover between high-g burns and all that vulnerable flesh implies...
In addition there are pirates and corrupt Hegemony officials as well as some that believe that the power structure that prefers the "zombies" not the flesh humans is wrong. The info dumps are quite Weberian on occasion too and while the author does not quite have (yet) the narrative pull to make one turn the pages through them too, there is a lot of promise so I really hope the series gets continued.
Hegemony solves its main storyline and ends at a good point though of course there is a huge TBC sign and the series has depth for a long run if successful.
Overall Hegemony was a relatively short, fast and quite engaging read set in a very interesting universe, very Weberian in overtones and "philosophy" and with narrative pull that on occasion comes close to the Honorverse and for that it makes the list of my highly recommended novels of 2012.
(note - ebook is available for 99c at Smashwords, Amazon and elsewhere)