- A standalone novel
- Published by Titan Books
- First published in 2021
- A post-apocalyptic space opera SF
- 397 pages
Old Earth has been destroyed. The ruins ruled over by unfettered Artificial Intelligences. Only an array of satellites prevents these deadly machines escaping into the Solar System. But while nothing comes out, one ship is about to go in. Because Grayson Lynch and his crew have a job to do, even if it kills them . . .
In a genre full of trilogies and longer series, standalone science fiction novels often feel like a throwback to the past. But when we get a standalone, it’s often a book of the intellectual variety. A book that delves deep into thematic territory, or blows your mind with its worldbuilding. And these books tend to be of the chunky variety. So much of science fiction’s rich history comes from slender standalone tomes, it’s always nice to find a quick read to revisit those simpler times. Stolen Earth is a sub-400 page story of action and adventure, and coming off the back of more complex tomes, it is an absolute joy.
There’s not a whole lot of original ideas going on in Stolen Earth, but that’s no bad thing. All the familiar elements are executed competently. And even if the plot is fairly predictable, that’s fine too. Stolen Earth is comfort reading. If it were a film, you’d enjoy it with a big bucket of popcorn. If it were a TV show, you’d binge it in a week. As a book, you’ll probably be done in a few days at most. Even when we’re dealing with a ruined wasteland inhabited by malign artificial intelligences, there’s no real sense of peril. Things move at a breakneck pace, but the ride is a smooth and calm one. It’s not so much exciting, as pleasant.
This is a book about a ship and a crew. It’s a winning formula, but one that lives or dies on the strength of the crew. In this regard, Stolen Earth is a mixed bag. There are five members of the crew, and we get the viewpoint of three of them. Grayson Lynch is a typical military type. The leader of the band, but ultimately rather flat in terms of character arc. There’s a sense that the important part of his life occurs between the prologue and the first chapter. Much better served are Laurel and Rajani. Laurel is the newcomer to the group, so through her we get a fresh set of eyes on events that the more jaded members of the team barely react to. Rajani has the strongest arc of the book, and is by far the most interesting character. Her relationship with artificial intelligences gives a unique angle on much of what happens later in the book, and her arc offers the suggestion of a sequel further down the lien, should Nicholas revisit this world again.
Less well served are the two non-viewpoint characters. That’s to be expected of course, but it’s still a shame. Bishop is rather flat and lifeless in the way supporting casts often are, but he gets off lightly compared to Federov. Federov is a rather unfortunate gun-toting, broken English-speaking Russian thug. A stereotype that is well and truly tired by this point. It’s not actively offensive, but it does come across as rather lazy.
In spite of a few missed opportunities with its characters, and a plot that will surprise precisely no one, Stolen Earth is a very fun book, and another strong standalone thriller from J. T. Nicholas.