A few days ago Anne Sowards, our Ace editor, sent me a couple of books. She keeps feeding my SF addiction. I grabbed one of those to read something while I sit outside after swimming.
Typically I don’t burn. I tan to this almost olive color. I burned my nose yesterday and had to put a leaf on it. I was reading LINESMAN by S. K. Dunstall outside and I lost a chunk of time. So now I will inflict this on you. Brace yourselves. 🙂
A long time ago a wreck of a ship was discovered powered by a propulsion system nobody had ever seen before. Humanity learned to use it and replicate it, which allowed it to spread across the stars. Nobody truly understands this complicated system, but some people are born with the ability to manipulate it. They call this technology lines. There are ten lines in all, one is responsible for the crew, two controls small mechanics and so on. Line nine takes the ship into the void, where it can travel faster than the speed of light, and line ten moves it within the void to the designated location. People who can influence lines – the linesmen – repair and maintain them with the power of their minds. The linesmen are ranked by the highest line they can influence. Only a few of them are strong enough to be a ten, capable of affecting all of the lines of the ship.
It’s the future and the humanity is now a galactic civilization. It spread through the stars, at first united, then, as more and more worlds became settled, fracturing politically into different factions. Now there is a political stalemate: the original Alliance against emerging powers. The war is likely inevitable, and on all sides some people fan the flames and some try their best to douse it. It’s a world of daring space captains, beautiful princesses with minds that are more dangerous than any dreadnought, and linesmen organized into cartels, who make the space travel possible.
Ean Lambert is a gutter rat born in the slums. He taught himself how to influence the lines. He feels them and sings to them. When he was old enough, he managed to get some training, but all of his trainers unanimously agreed that he is weird and a hack. Nobody sings to the lines. You push them to do what needs to be done. Unfortunately he picked up this bad habit and there was no breaking him of it. Really, he is a self-taught embarrassment. They couldn’t not certify him, because he is a ten, but he is mostly shunned. He works for Rigel, who owns the smallest and seediest of cartels.
An alien ship appears out of the void. Each of the Galactic powers is desperate to get their hands on it, but the ship a catastrophically effective defense system that makes any approach impossible. It kills everyone. Except Ean.
It is so hard not to like Ean. He is flawed. He doesn’t often stand up for himself. He lets people push him around and he often thinks of himself as less than what he truly is. But he is so good at what he does. He has professional ethics and he truly cares for the lines. He soothes them, he fixes them, he reassures them because he is fully convinced that they might have a mind of their own. He might not stand up to royalty and admirals for his own sake, but he will do it for the sake of the lines.
I really liked this book. It was fresh, it had sentient ships, and it had such a human hero. There is no romance and politics do get a little complicated in some parts, but overall the book is 372 pages and, judging by Ace’s type, it likely runs about 100K, and I inhaled it in two days and burned my nose.