Monday, 15 August 2011

'Hell Ship' - Philip Palmer

Hell Ship has a very appealing blurb and we just hit it off straight away. The Hell Ship is an enormous vessel, filled with the slaves of conquered worlds. Sharrock is one the slaves, but he refuses to give up and swears that he will break his chains and bring down his masters. Against him is the leader of the slaves who will do anything to preserve the status quo she has worked so hard for. Unknown to the slaves the Hell Ship is also being hunted by a powerful ship and is in the control of a man whose mind was merged with the ship’s AI.
I expected a tongue in cheek story packed with heroic feats and monstrous aliens. I had high expectations on this book, which made me worried I’d be disappointed. I waited until the Orbit book signing at Forbidden Planet before treating myself to a signed copy of Hell Ship.
Aliens, invaders and pirates in space!
Sharrock is a champion of his people who is on his way home from a mission when he spots smoke on the horizon. His village was destroyed, his friends and family murdered. Burning bodies are everywhere but there is no sign of the enemy. He decides to take an aircraft and head toward the largest nearby city. Once in the air, he spots the enemy for the first time. Sharrock forces the bandit fighter to land. Now he can see his foe in the flesh. She is at least twice as large as him with bulging muscles and fiery red hair. He fights like he has never fought before, but no matter how much damage he does to the hulking woman, she does not die. Just as despair is crushing his spirit, the world erupts into flames. He feels his skin burning and his bones melting, then darkness.

When Sharrock awakes he finds himself locked in a cage. A giant tentacle monster is the only one there to greet him from his return from oblivion. The monster speaks with the beautiful voice of a woman and tries to soothe his anger and the pain he feels from losing his entire world. Sharrock is not one to negotiate or even talk to a creature capable of destroying a world without provocation. He refuses to believe she is a prisoner along with many other creatures who have all suffered the same fate as him. Sharrock might have lost the battle for his world, but he is not defeated and he vows to break free and utterly destroy his captors and avenge his world.

Jak is an Olaran male. Heartbroken, he has left his service as a trader to get away from the woman that broke his heart. To do this, he decides to join an explorer ship. Their job is to boldly go where no one has gone before. Sounds familiar doesn't it? If a planet has something worth trading then traders are sent there. If a species is deemed too aggressive, the whole planetary system is quarantined. The Olarans are the most technologically advanced species in their universe, almost godlike in their power. With the Hell Ship, the Orlaran explorer ship has met its match. Jak is the sole survivor of the crew but is grievously injured. The ship's AI, along with Jak, swear they will hunt down the Hell Ship and destroy it once and for all.

Hell Ship was written with me as the target audience. I knew I would love it after reading just a couple of pages. One of the reasons I enjoy science fiction is that I am fascinated by the unknown and whatever it hides. The more alien and bizarre it is, the better. This one of many reasons why I love Neal Asher's Spatteryjay series. Hell Ship also delivers the same creativity by the space freighter load. Nothing is ordinary here. We are taken on a joyride through a multitude of universes and Philip Palmer fills each and everyone with his wondrous and dreadful creations. I cannot help but associate the Hell Ship with the flying Dutchman. That is the kind of dread it invokes. Not that anyone survives to spin a yarn about it.

It's action packed as well. Like any other prison, there is pecking order. This is not something that's established over a cup of tea and a game of chess. It is, of course, settled with blood. Philip Palmer treats his reader to well written fights that are quick, brutal and feel convincing. There is something humorous about them as well. Fights often come to a unexpectedly abrupt endings.
"We want your deaths," said the FanTang leader, and took out a stick that was tied to his belt, and shook the stick so it became a sword, and struck off my head.
It's not all blood and gore. There are some more emotional moments. All of these prisoners have lost their home worlds and their stories were touching. The characters themselves are well written. I can't help but I love Sharrock. He is such a super soldier with a die hard spirit. Really full of himself, but in a very charming way. He feels like a parody of an action hero with his attitude and quite remarkable abilities. There is not much this guy is not capable of even though he does suffer a beating now and then.
And then Sharrock screamed: "Ha! I Jest! Sharrock? Defeated? Never!!" And he pounced.
The only complaints I have about this highly entertaining book is that it was too generous with cataloguing new species. A section at the end felt like reading a encyclopedia and should have been trimmed down. It was also a shame how Jak developed as a character. He starts out as a flippant and cocksure young man. He might have suffered a loss in love, but he is still at the top of his game. However, after the encounter with the Hell Ship, he changes. His experience leaves him broken in more than one way and he is a lot less interesting all of a sudden.

If like me you love to be amazed by new and mind boggling aliens, you should pick up Hell Ship by Philip Palmer. Be prepared to fasten your seat belt and enjoy a roller coaster ride through space. You will be treated to an entertaining tale of heroics, tragedy and selfless sacrifice all written with a gleam in the eye.

Check out Philip Palmer's own moodboard for Hell Ship.

Hell Ship weighs in at 480 pages and is published by Orbit.

Recommendation: must read

1 comment:

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