Shooting the Rift by Alex Stewart

Sometimes the story blurb can be very misleading and other times it is spot on. With Shooting the Rift, what is stated at the back of the book is exactly what we get: a breezy sci fi with minor cyberpunk trappings. This isn’t deep sci fi – and David Drake’s influence is obvious here. But the story flows smoothly if perhaps a bit too easily for our expert hacker hero. Shooting the Rift makes for a great Summer read, following an endearing main character.

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Story: Simon’s Commonwealth is one dominated by women – where the women hold the high positions and men aim for careers of ‘estate management’ (due to their inability to control their aggression, natch). His mother may be an admiral and his sister a feisty marine, but Simon wants more from his life than simply marrying to advantage. An attempt to enter the military academy turns out disastrous and his is not only expelled but promptly disowned. Thankfully, he has an Aunt willing to help him out and use her influences to get him assigned as an apprentice on a merchant guild ship. The only problem? She wants him to use his hacking skills for Commonwealth espionage at the same time…..

The matriarchal society was an amusing twist but fortunately author Stewart didn’t play it for laughs and kept it credible. Our protagonist is a mixture of social cunning (due to growing up in high society and playing the perfect son), high end hacker, and ball of guilelessness (clueless when female shipmates are hitting on him/blurting out unguarded observations that get him in trouble). I’m not quite sure the combination worked other than to provide situations for drama or to further plot points. But Simon is fun to follow as he navigates new worlds.

The story is fairly straight-forward with a few small twists at the end. The arc completes in a satisfactory manner, setting up the premise for more books in the future. Stewart does a great job creating a wide cast of characters – from mercenary guilders to desperate freebooters. And although the first half of the book doesn’t have a lot of action, the instantly likable character of Simon more than balances that lack. This is the first in a new series so there is a lot of necessary worldbuilding and set up that is neatly laid here – the story never bogs down. Certainly, we left at a very intriguing place and it will be interesting to watch these characters interact and grow. At times, I was greatly reminded of the TV series Farscape.

In all, an enjoyable and uncomplicated read full of quirky characters and a protagonist readers will want to cheer on as he hacks his way through dangerous situations. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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