Book Title: Valhalla Station: A Space Opera Noir Technothriller – The SynCorp Saga: Empire Earth, Book 1
Publication Date: March 21, 2019
Available on: Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
A generation after the events of “Hostile Takeover”, the final novel of the first trilogy in the SynCorp Saga, we catch up with familiar faces and new ones as well. Now that the SynCorp has taken over Earth, Mars, Jupiter and the surrounding shipping lanes, profits are up and everything is status quo. Peace reigns until a terrorist attack upon a Mars mining facility kills over one-hundred people. This is the catalyst that throws everything into upheaval as suspicion spreads across the heads of SynCorp’s Five Factions. Who is causing these disruptions to their business and why?
The answer is not so simple as the action is spread across several different viewpoints. We meet Ruben Qinlao, now an adult and learning how to be a corporate leader under Ming, whose health is deteriorating. Tony Taulke’s running the show on Mars and its space station while Adrianna Rabh rules from Valhalla Station in orbit around Callisto, one of Jupiter’s moons. As the terrorists continue to attack and spread their ideology, I kept guessing and wondered who they were and what motivated them.
We also meet new characters as well. Kwazi Jabari is a miner who gets caught up in the corporate machine after a tragedy. Edith Birch is a wife living with her abusive husband on Valhalla Station whose violence only gets worse over time. And Stacks Fischer is a hired killer who works for Tony and is sent to find out what’s going on with pirates around Callisto.
The corporate politics of the Five Factions within SynCorp make for much intrigue and only add fuel to an already stewing pot of shifting allegiances and increasing distrust. It is a complicated portrait as long-simmering plots and enemies all collide into an explosive and exhilarating final third of the book. Secrets are revealed, alliances are changed forever, rivalries are exposed and enemies emerge from hiding.
With a story this sprawling, many characters die and don’t make it to the end of the novel. I speculated who would survive and live on in the next novel as all the characters are placed into mortal peril as machinations simmering under the surface come to light. It’s a nice mix of characters and fan favorites from the previous trilogy and introduces brand-new and fascinating characters as well.
It also successfully incorporated events from previous novels and meshed them well into this story of a new generation while keeping the pace of the novel moving at a fast clip. I liked how the characters from previous novels were used here, how they grew and changed over time and how their past experiences shaped their current lives and ways of thinking as leaders of SynCorp.
Stories like this can get bogged down with all the characters and events but this novel doesn’t fall into that trap and kept me turning the pages wanting to find out more. It also clearly kept everyone’s identities and situations perfectly clear and different from one another so I could follow the novel’s events easily.
The standout new character for me is Stacks Fischer, the hired killer who is simultaneously cool, fascinating, intelligent and strategic but yet, is not perfect or bulletproof. His dry wit, personal ethics, cool gadgets, and extremely high competence make him compulsively readable and I really couldn’t get enough of his story. If he was gunning for me, I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley. A whole novel on him would be welcomed.
Edith’s story was very interesting to me and while at first, she plays the role of the dutiful wife trapped in her life by her husband. But how she evolves and tries to find hope make it one of the more surprising storylines in this book.
It took a while for me to warm up to Kwazi Jabari’s story. It’s tragic, to be certain and gets more interesting once he takes his new job as a spokesperson for SynCorp after the Martian terrorist attack. But as he descends into darkness and despair, his story remained fairly static and repetitive at times until towards the end. However, once I saw where his story ended, in this novel at least, I really wanted to learn more what his future held.
The use of different technologies also has an important role here. I liked the uses of the medical implant used by all of SynCorp’s employees, the addiction to virtual reality that causes people to be called Hackheads and the use of the internet and broadcast media as SynCorp propaganda tools. All of this only enhanced the story being told and fleshed out the grander canvas of this entire series.
I also liked how the novel used the idea of corporations completely controlling the lives of its employees. While this is nothing new in science fiction, it was used refreshingly well here. SynCorp works its people hard but it does take good care of them and their needs, even as they’re being exploited by their corporate overseers.
The SynCorp Saga will eventually be comprised of three trilogies, with each one taking place a generation after the last. This is book one in the second trilogy and while it can be read as the beginning of a new trilogy without having read the previous novels, it adds a lot more depth and enhances the enjoyment of the novel if you know the backstory of events and characters from previous stories.
This is a fast-moving science fiction novel that sets up the entire second trilogy nicely, with excellent world-building, engrossing characters, and a compelling story. All their stories intertwine and coalesce into one another, with each smaller event eventually forming a larger picture. When the larger tapestry of events of revealed, it showcased an expert weaving of plot and character that leads to a jaw-dropping finale that will leave you begging for the next novel in the series to be out now, instead of waiting months for the next one.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories by David Bruns & Chris Pourteau include “Masada’s Gate: A Space Opera Noir Technothriller“, “It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane!: A Superhero Anthology“, “World Domination: A Supervillain Anthology“, “Beyond the Stars – Unimagined Realms: a space opera anthology” and “Bridge Across the Stars – A Sci-Fi Bridge Original Anthology.”