By Simon Brown
HarperCollins 1996
ISBN 0 7322 5637 2

I saw this remaindered and bought it for the cover.

Parts of this book are very good, with interesting ideas. Parts of this book flail around, desperately looking for a point of difference from similar space operas.

The Calethar, the main antagonist alien race, are a case in point. Brown takes some pains to develop aspects of their culture, to give them aims, and goals, and reasons for doing what they do. But I still find them incompletely realised. Even their physical description is like something seen through a foggy window – parts stand out clearly, yet much is indistinct. Contrast descriptions of aliens by Iain Banks or C. J. Cherryh, where you end up with a vivid mental picture of the Idirians or the Han.

The descriptions of the border worlds, scratching out a living by trade and protecting it with privately funded armed merchants operating under letters of marquee, is evocative of the colonies in the Caribbean in the Sixteenth or Seventeenth Centuries, and works very well. Yet, space travel seems to take only a few hours between star systems, which, to me, would indicate the possibility of much firmer control from the Calethar homeworld, or Earth and, hence, reduce the likely-hood of privateers being able to operate.

Space battles tend to be single ship actions which fits into the buccaneering tradition, yet, descriptively, they lack the tenseness of Cherryh, or the rivet counting of David Webber. The ground actions of raiding parties, on the other hand, are nicely rendered.

On balance, ‘Privateer’ is worth a read if it is remembered that it is a first novel.

There’s a brief article about Simon Brown on Wikipedia but I can't find anything on ‘Privateer’. Brown’s website appears to be down.


Thanks to Berka at The Zhodani Base for the background nebula on this page.