S.D. McKee,
Darkness Among the Stars,
Book 1: Defeated

(Behler, 2005)

It's 2271, and Jonathon Quinn is having a bad day -- and I mean a bad day of intergalactic proportions. It was supposed to be a banner day in the history of Earth and the Intrastellar Coalition of Planets, the day Operation Giant Leap opened up the entire universe for travel and exploration.

As captain of the ICS Intimidator, the fleet's flagship, Quinn was there to oversee the operation as scientists on the lunar base created a wormhole and launched a probe through it to get their first close-up look at a world millions of light years away (they had already solved the problem of communication across untold light years of distance). Not only did the wormhole work, providing all concerned with a glimpse into the distant Polaris system, it revealed the undeniable existence of an alien civilization. Before any kind of true first contact could be made, however, the wormhole began fluctuating, the head scientist pushed his luck and, suddenly -- disaster. And I do mean disaster in every sense of the word.

While it's not Quinn's fault, per se, guilt hits him like a ton of bricks. Then, when things can't possibly get any worse, the full scope of the disaster is made clear. The devastating consequences of the accident on this side of the wormhole, as terrible as they are, do not even begin to compare to the tragedy experienced on the other side.

Within hours, the reeling forces of the Intrastellar Coalition of Planets find themselves at war with a vastly superior alien force. And so begins one of the most thorough and complete ass-kickings any futuristic Earth has ever taken. The alien technology and firepower allows the new enemy to cut through Earth's forces like a hot knife through butter.

Author S.D. McKee gives Earth some rather ingenious weapons, such as a solar laser that stores up energy from the sun and unleashes it in a most deadly form, but nothing can stop the alien onslaught. Even as the fleet is crippled and Earth itself comes under full attack, the worst is yet to come -- but only Jonathon Quinn knows it. For reasons he can't comprehend, an alien presence has established some kind of mental link with his mind, sending him dreamlike visions of the horrors to come and warning him of the approaching Darkness.

McKee really lets his imagination run wild with the alien technology, giving readers some of the most memorable spaceships ever dreamed of. Not only are the alien starships huge, they seem to be made of some type of organic material. Black shadows roil across their dark surfaces in the most chilling of manners, and they sport huge talons and Medusa-like tentacles as well. They prove just as impressive in action as they do in appearance, making for some thrilling scenes of military warfare in space.

There are many likeable characters scattered throughout this story, but don't expect Jonathon's crew to follow the protocol of Starfleet. No crewman ever responded to an order from Captain Kirk by asking if he was nuts, and Kirk never slept with one of his officers. Let's just say that there is a lot of informality among the crew of the ICS Invincible. In one sense, this is a weakness, but in another sense it makes the main characters much more likeable and approachable to the reader.

Toward the end, though, a major shift in the story took place. Personally, I wasn't all that enthused about this new direction, as I think it took away from the integrity of the story, although it certainly did set the stage for the next entry in the Darkness Among the Stars. I still plan on following the storyline through future installments.

The bottom line, though, is that Defeated is a very engaging work of science fiction, and I really enjoyed reading it. McKee has a very creative imagination that serves him well in this particular genre, and his ability to create characters readers like and care about should serve him well as this particular series progresses. There is every reason to believe that McKee has quite a successful science fiction career in front of him.

by Daniel Jolley
30 June 2007

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