Rating: 3.5 stars
Centuries into the future, mankind have become a presence in the universe. They have colonized onto many planets beyond the solar system. Colonization of the home worlds were just the beginning as the definition of humanity has blurred with many innovations to this era of genetic engineering, faster-than light communication, and space flight that has allowed humans to reach further into the unknown. The Hellgate series begins with The Rabelais Alliance, taking place in a sector of the universe dubbed the Deep Sky and its colonies. The area of space occupied by the Deep Sky colonies consists of The Drift, AKA Hellgate. I think Mel Keegan explains it better than I can:
“The Drift was a tremendously unstable area of space. Directly to galactic east was Nova 2631C. The super-dense pulsar remnant was still active, still emitting energetically after thirteen years, a powerful source of x-rays and positrons on the fringe of the subspace transmission bands. To galactic north was Naiobe, a modest black hole, gradually ingesting 2631C’s immense halo of gasses. The accretion disk generated a barrage of broad-spectrum emissions, and Naiobe’s eccentric orbit produced perpetual, unpredictable gravity tides which eddied around the area of 2631C and the massive ‘supergiant’ stars which had been its sisters.”
Basically, Hellgate is an area where space is easily manipulated. Where a ship can appear at one point in space, and appear in a different area the next second due to random wormholes formed by a blackhole. It’s also an area where random gravity wells can form, and unsuspecting carrier ships could easily disappear in a wormhole, and appear in many pieces elsewhere.
Neil Travers is Master Sargeant of the super-carrier ship named the Intrepid, which has spent three years at The Drift. His relationship with the very privateers (think space pirates) he’s charged with hunting in The Drift will be his connection with Curtis Marin, an assassin from a secret organization with an agenda.
First and foremost, Hellgate is not your typical M/M science fiction romance. Think of it as science fiction with main gay characters, and where focus is on the plot and not necessarily the romantic relationship between Neil and Curtis. I think the quote above regarding The Drift is a great example of the “type” of science fiction readers will be getting themselves into. Mel Keegan doesn’t skimp on the details in the construction of this universe (note how I avoid the term “world building.” It wouldn’t be quite accurate, as this is beyond just a single world – he’s giving us a whole universe!). Hellgate flourishes, yet also suffers, from the amount of detail and information that is provided in this alternative universe where humans have reached the stars. There is a lot of information to absorb. If you are one to hate details, then Hellgate may not be the book for you as you’ll drown in all the info-dumping.
It also becomes evident that this book (being the first in a series) is a setup for things to come. Sure, there’s some action here and there, but the pace felt very slow in the grand scheme of things. Our main characters don’t even meet until about a third of a way into the book, which is quite substantial considering the size of this novel. However, the details of this universe is so engrossing that even I could appreciate the attention to everything from the current political turmoil between the home worlds and the Deep Sky colonies to the history of human colonization supplied by the author.
At first, there seems to be all these different conflicts in the story: the brink of revolution between the home worlds and the Deep Sky colonies, the forced conscription of all seventeen year-old teenagers to serve five year terms in Fleet, the secret organization of Dendra Shemiji, and the alien threat of the Zunshu. I was worried the book was going to tackle more problems than it can handle, but Mel Keegan is a masterful storyteller. By the end of book one, I was very impressed with the way he’s able to make all these different conflicts weave into one encompassing plot.
Asides from the slow pacing, the only other big issue I had is with characterizations. Don’t get me wrong, The Rabelais Alliance has a wonderful cast of characters. Unfortunately, it felt like Travers and Curtis were the least interesting of the bunch, and at times felt a bit indistinct from one another.
So overall, I recommend The Rabelais Alliance for the plot-driven science fiction enthusiasts who’s not afraid to be swimming in a sea of detail required to create an engrossing universe. While the pacing is slow and the main characters weren’t as engaging as I hoped, the story managed grab hold of my curiosity. There is excellent universe building, but my inner romantic was disappointed as the focus isn’t on the relationship. Those looking for a science fiction romance novel may want to look elsewhere.
Note: you can download a 10% sample from the author’s webpage at http://www.dream-craft.com/melkeegan/rabelais_dc.htm. That is pretty significant for a 185,000 word novel! And plus, there’s illustrations of the cast of characters there as well!