In our universe but far ahead on the timeline, humankind took off and settled in space. The corporation that put them there – Earth Company – thinks it has a monopoly on… everything, despite there being a natural 6 year time lag, one way, in even the fastest communications route.
As with all prequels that gets published well after the readers know everything about what came after there is a risk: the risk of being too set within pre-existing conditions for real brilliance to shine. Not one wit of it is displayed in Alliance Rising; it is, plain and simple, a top class addition to an already great set of stories.
In later books the Hinder Stars are generally glossed over – hindmost, left behind by humankind’s progress through the Beyond, their only value being the link to Earth, and that’s a link that no one really wants, any more. Who wants to stay connected to a megalomaniac psychopath with an obsession with minute control?
(The reader is free to either just take this as a baseline parameter of the story, or to contemplate mega-corporation control mania as it appears in our part of the timeline.)
When the story starts we meet Ross and Fallan, of the merchanter ship Galway, as they sit in a bar at Alpha Station watching the boards track an unknown incoming, hoping it will not be too hostile, and joining in the general suspicion.
Outsiders seldom come to such an outskirts and down on luck station any more, not since Alpha stopped being able to offer trade in goods from faraway Earth. All shipments from Earth goes towards building a monster ship, and not enough goes to station maintenance, not to speak of trading: that has been the situation for at least two decades, now. The ship is huge and the fear is that it will rob the loyal but small merchanter ships of their trade; others fear it might not be meant for trading, but for enforcement: another kind of threat. Maybe that’s why the newcomer is here? Or maybe they run the errands of almost mythological Pell Station, coming to put Alpha out of business altogether?
Over the 346 pages of the book we get to follow what expires after the outsider ship docks, from Ross’ perspective, but not without hearing from the captain of said vessel – one JR Niehart, Finity’s End being the ship – and the stationmaster, Benjamin Abrezio, formally an Earth Company executive. It should come as no surprise, given the title of the book, that we get to see the birth of the Alliance, of the Alliance-Union Universe.
The story is well paced, well told – much as expected, and despite it being a collaboration between Cherryh and Fancher it feels like a solid one-author job.
A must-read for anyone who have read and enjoyed Cherryh’s stories set in the Alliance-Union Universe, and especially the Company Wars books.
One of the great joys of this Universe, our own but far in the future, is its plausibility. An empire that overextends itself, as in that modes of communication forces independence in the regions far from the centre (think ancient Rome), coupled with layers of power politics, and then the way these politics impact ordinary people and their lives. The parallel with present day is not blatant. No, the genius is in showing rather than telling, leaving the reader to connect the dots… or not, at her own pleasure.
One things is sure, though – the next instalment can’t come fast enough!