Into the Hinterlands
Author: David Drake and John Lambshead
Publisher: Baen Books
ISBN: 10: 1-4391-3461-8
ISBN: 13: 978-1-4391-3461-0

The most striking aspect of this new s-f space opera series, of which this is the first novel, is its mode of interstellar travel: by bicycle!  The authors cover it in lots of bewilderingly colorful pseudoscientific doubletalk (“Allenson had asked the captain how it worked but had not entirely grasped the somewhat confused explanation.” – p. 278), but it is essentially by bicycle:

“The Continuum was angry.

“Sometimes you could see forever through its violet tints.  Today, turbulent currents spilled colors with such energy that Allenson could not keep Jem Hawthorn’s frame in sight.  He was reduced to following the silver track of its wake.

“Allenson pedaled a similar frame, a machine not unlike an exercise bike in appearance.  It had a central column with pedals at the bottom and a seat on top.  A control panel and a display screen were slung between handlebars projecting between his legs.  His rucksack was clipped to the back.  The entire machine was made from paper-light ceramic and carbon compounds.

“Thin filaments of carbon enclosed him; balls of green and blue light rolled slowly among them.  If Allenson concentrated he could see the faint shimmer of the interface between his reality bubble and the raw energy of the Continuum.  That delicate bubble was only maintained by constant pedaling, as the frame had little capacity for storing energy.” (p. 1).

In the far future, the galaxy – or that part nearest Earth – has been settled into a growing number of habitable planets depending on energy streams through the Continuum.  “One of the most important was the Cutter Stream that crossed the worldless Bight to the galactic west of the Home Worlds.  This stream made possible Brasilia’s five Cutter Stream Colonies, situated as they were on the far side of the Bight.” (p. 2).

Allenson, Hawthorn, and Destry are three surveyors sent out from Brasilia’s Cutter Stream Colony worlds to explore and map newer worlds in the Hinterlands to the galactic west.  “This area was thought to be rich in exploitable worlds.” (ibid.)  Allen Allenson, the protagonist, is officially the Assistant Surveyor to Destry, the Chief Surveyor who is a Brasilian aristocrat, but it is understood that Allenson is the real leader.  The first third of the novel relates their experiences in mapping the Hinterlands worlds.  It establishes the Brasilian aristocratic social order.  It gradually becomes clear that the Hinterlands worlds are already being settled by unofficial frontier colonies, that there are political tensions among the Home Worlds and that Brasilia and Terra are competing to establish new Colony worlds, and that the new frontier worlds do not have any strong allegiances to either.

Eventually, the rivalry among the Home Worlds leads to warfare between Brasilia and Terra.  The novel follows Allenson’s exploits as an officer of Brasilia’s forces in the Colonies, where he, his second-in-command Jem Hawthorn, and the other Colonial militia become increasingly exasperated by the arrogant inefficiency of the Brasilian Home World Regular Army.

David Drake is well-known for taking dramatic incidents from history and turning them into s-f novels.  His Cross the Stars is a s-f rewrite of The Odyssey.  His s-f novel Patriots was based on the exploits of Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys irregulars in the Revolutionary War.  In each of Drake’s RCN (Republic of Cinnabar Navy) novels (nine so far), he explains in an introduction what historical event the novel is an s-f elaboration upon.

Into the Hinterlands is not “officially” based on anything.  But almost every reviewer has noted that it leads off with a quotation by George Washington, that both Allenson and Washington were members of their colonial upper classes, that both Allenson and Washington have/had older brothers who are expected to lead their families but who die young, leaving their younger brothers to carry on their goals, and that Washington was assigned to survey and explore the wilds to expand the British colonies in the 1750s during the French and Indian Wars (Washington was both a surveyor and a colonial major in the British Army), as Allenson is in the Brasilian colonies in Into the Hinterlands.

Into the Hinterlands is a very well-written military s-f novel with much original macho action in the details.  “Allen phased in with Destry [into the Destry Demesne on Wagener in the Five Worlds].  For the first time it struck him how utterly defenseless was the mansion, with its large glass bay windows and spacious balustraded balconies.  A magnificent, wide stairway gave access to the main entrance on the middle floor.  The ground floor was pierced by many doors, so that servants had easy access to the working areas, kitchens, storerooms, and suchlike.  There had not been an attack on a Wagener demesne in living memory.  …” (p. 89).  Instead of making most readers feel that they know how it will turn out, it will probably send most readers to a biography of George Washington to see how closely the parallels in Allen Allenson’s and George Washington’s careers are, and to guess at where the sequels will lead.

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