Fans of Nathan Lowell’s Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series (including me) await each and every book with anticipation for another great story, and we are never disappointed when there is a new release, and often, we immediately begin badgering the author for more. This latest installment in the ongoing story of Captain Ishmael Wang, To Fire Called, takes our favorite freighter captain and his crew into unfamiliar surroundings, or at least they are to him.
For those of you that are not familiar with Dr. Lowell’s work, it is the story of Ishmael Wang, a young man of seventeen who knew where he was going until a tragic accident left him alone on a planet where he was not wanted. Ordered to leave because he had no way to support himself, he signed onto a freight hauler as a cook’s mate. He had few skills and less knowledge of what he had gotten himself into, but he had one talent that made him an almost instant celebrity on board the first ship he worked on; he knew how to make good coffee. But being able to make great coffee, the lifeblood of a happy ship, is not the only talent that Ish possesses though; he is also very good at working with and handling people.
As the years went on, he found that he was well suited for life in space and learned everything he could about ships and what makes them work. Finally went to the academy to learn to be an officer. After graduating, Ish had some rough postings, but always managed to leave a ship better than he found it. In this newest story, Ishmael is once again entering unfamiliar territory.
Ishmael, his friend Pip Carstairs, and a few other investors have started the Phoenix Freight Company with Ishmael as the captain of the only ship in the fleet, the Chernyakova. The ship is in drydock undergoing a complete refit after being discovered derelict with all hands dead onboard. As a matter of fact, Ishmael is the one who discovered and arranged for towing the ship back into port. After gathering his crew it is time to make some money to replace the large sums it took for the Chernyakova’s refit. Pip suggests that there is a lot of money to be made if they would start running in Toe Hold space.
Ishmael is used to running cargo in Confederated space where ships, officers, and stations are operated on a set of rules and regulations designed to keep everyone safe and to keep piracy out of the picture. In contrast, Toe Hold space is a place where there basically very few rules, and those rules are different at every port of call. There are some shady characters out there, and some that are not to be trusted, but there is big money to be made and Phoenix Freight needs to raise funds.
As To Fire Called is a Seeker’s Tale, everyone is looking for something, and all is not what it seems, and some are not who they seem to be on board the Chernyakova, so there are a lot of twists and turns in this story that make things quite interesting.
One of the many aspects that make this a great and compelling story is following the life of Ishmael. Owing to an incident in an earlier segment, Ish seems to have lost something, namely himself. One of the most important places on the ship, second only to the galley, is the Cabin, specifically the captain’s cabin where all of the major decisions are made. As the Chernyakova begins doing business, the officers notice that Ishmael is absent while on board, and that the Cabin isn’t a reflection of Ishmael’s personality as it has been on previous billets. He seems to be simply going through the motions as captain. He spends a lot of time in the Cabin, only goes to the bridge to stare at the stars or supervise vital ship operations, and occasionally goes to the galley for meals. He has somewhat isolated himself and the reason is that he is suffering from depression due to a loss of someone he cared a great deal about.
Ishmael’s officers take on the task of helping Ishmael heal and begin the process of recovering himself by making him decorate the Cabin and get back to moving about the ship. One of Ish’s qualities is that he surrounds himself with competent officers and crew and he know enough to stay out of their way and let them do their jobs, while at the same time knowing when to intervene to help solve problems. Of course, his officers know this about him and they are also aware of what the problem is, so they take care of their captain, who is very willing to take the help for the good of the ship as well as his own good.
At any rate, To Fire Called beyond Ishmael’s story gives the reader a picture of what freight hauling is about on the frontier known as Toe Hold Space. Most of the procedures in Toe Hold are the same as in Confederated space and many of the rules change as one travels from station to station picking up and delivering cargo. It makes for an engaging story that adds a new dimension to the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series that includes some action scenes that have not appeared in earlier stories.
As always, I highly recommend To Fire Called as well as all of the tales spun by Nathan Lowell. I would advise the reader to read them in order though, starting with the first book, Quarter Share.
Well, there it is…
Edited by Benjamin Arrowood