Eric Michael Craig is a hard sci-fi author who caught my attention with his Atlas and the Winds and Shan Takhu Legacy series, both of which are gems in the genre. Therefore, I knew what to expect going into the Wings of Earth series, and yet Craig still managed to surprise me.
His previous books focused on deep conceptual dives, from the political chaos of a planet-killing asteroid to the humanity-defining event of discovering alien technology. They have all been compelling reads that feature Craig’s signature weight and tone. In addition, the science is always sound and the wit is always sharp.
This portrait also applies to Echoes of Starlight, but with one major twist. In lieu of a major ensemble cast interacting through a complex dance, this story focuses on the decisions of a single character. Given the author’s penchant for weaving intricate narratives, one would think that this approach would lock his creative gears. Far from it. While reading this book, I got the distinct impression that Craig was having fun.
Ethan Walker is the captain of the Olympus Dawn, a cargo freighter on its way to deliver medical supplies to the Starlight colony planet. When he arrives at the system, all coms have been lost and he needs to figure out why. One ill-advised decision after another leads him and his crew to the planet surface, a hostile environment that would love nothing more than to melt the flesh from their bones.
Walker is not a reckless character, mind you. His decisions are informed by a do-good attitude, which earns him plenty of cred with the reader. It just so happens that his judgments cascade into very bad situation. Before long, a mysterious illness adds to the stress of a cryptic cargo, which adds to the stress of restless passengers, which adds to the stress of a hard-line boss, which adds to the stress of having no idea what the hell is going on with the colony. He gets pushed to the mental brink, and we feel every inch of his pain.
And then a shuttle disappears, which tosses the proverbial shit into the fan. (Anything from here would be spoiler territory, so I’ll leave it at that.)
Unlike Craig’s previous works, this is a centralized story about personal choices. There are no epic space battles or clashing armies. Craig throws the reader into the cockpit of a modest freighter and lets the main characters reveal themselves through the consequences of their actions. They don’t start wars, but they do annoy superiors and put their jobs in jeopardy. You know, regular folk stuff (in space).
Echoes of Starlight is a really fun read and a great launching point into the Wings of Earth series (which shares a tie-in to the Shan Takhu Legacy). The tale continues with Dust of the Deep, which I will happily dive into next. I highly recommend this book and strongly suspect that Craig has another gripping saga on his hands.