Spooky Action at a Distance by Felicia Watson
Some books are like a venture into the unknown. Some are like a thrilling rollercoaster ride. And some are like a warming cup of spiced latte with a cinnamon bun.
To me, Felicia Watson's Lovelace series is such a warm hug wrapped in a paperback.
The blurb reads:
"Lieutenant Naiche Decker has finally found a home aboard the UDC starship, Lovelace. With the Eternals war behind her, she's looking forward to life as an explorer rather than a soldier. But her latest adventure – exploring a quantum entanglement – proves to be the most dangerous mission she's ever faced. Aiding her in this quest are her friends, CO Con Kennedy, and canine companion Kayatennae – as well as a remarkable Quantum Drive ship that links directly into its pilot's brain. Complicating matters are an arrogant rival pilot and a race of mysterious aliens whose intentions are as murky as the waters they live in. Naiche will need all her strength, cunning, and skill to rise above these challenges and rescue her stranded comrades before they're lost forever."
Reviewing the following books in the series is always tricky. I want to tell you all about it, but I also don't want to spoil the story if you haven't read We Have Met The Enemy.
I will try to be careful, but there may be some minor spoilers ahead.
It's worth noting that you can jump right into the Spooky Action at a Distance if you haven't read the first book in the series - We Have Met The Enemy. However, there are some nuances that may elude you if you skipped it.
Naiche Decker, a rebellious Chiricahua Apache lieutenant, returns aboard the UDC starship Lovelace. Along with her are her best friend, Lieutenant Commander Conroy Kennedy, her canine best friend, Corpsman Third Class Kayatennae, and Captain Matteo Ricci.
The crew faces the Okeke Phenomenon - a quantum entanglement referred to as the Expanse, where the space-time field is in constant flux. Two ships, a scientific vessel, the Burnell, sent exploring the Expanse, and a rescue ship, the Meitner, tasked with the Burnell's retrieval, are missing. Another rescue ship sent to find the other two reported a mysterious attack.
Lovelace's navigation system cannot handle the Expanse. However, they bring along a small ship equipped with Quantum Navigation System. QNS uses a neural link between the pilot's brain and a quantum computing-assisted navigation drive. As the QNS port is an implant, only selected pilots can guide the ship. The pilot accompanying the Lovelace is Lieutenant Commander Talako Jacoway - Naiche's rival, with whom she's not on good terms since their school days.
While the crew is navigating the requirements of the search-and-rescue mission and interpersonal challenges of friendship and family ties, scientists predict that the Expanse will collapse. Can Lovelace pull off this perilous task?
If you've read the first book in the series, you're familiar with Felicia's style and focus. Her narrative is strongly character-driven and expands on the relationships built in the We Have Met The Enemy. The highlight of it was a connection between Decker and Jacoway. Their rivalry/conflict started during their school years and is linked to smartly woven sociopolitical commentary. Their views represent the disagreement between liberation and assimilation viewpoints of native identity.
The story uses less introspection than its predecessor and has more humour. I laughed a lot! In fairness, it's difficult to remain serious when the crew encounters Fwalayna Noctay on planet Vwallon, who Naiche endearingly called "walrus squids". The encounters also include "glass crabs" and fascinating pink dust, which has little regard for one's privacy.
Typically for a space opera, the main focus is on characters and their relationships. However, science is an integral part of the setting (even the title is a nod towards Albert Einstein), and I really like its use. Particularly when it comes to neutrinos. I admit, after this fundamental subatomic particle infamously mutated in the movie "2012" (sic!), almost anything goes. Personally, I think removing everything but neutrinos to uncover a fake projection was an excellent way to give them the respect they deserve.
Felicia Watson knows precisely what she's doing. After all, she's a scientist.
As I was writing these words, I finally realised why I have particularly warm feelings towards this series. It's an intelligent character- and plot-driven space romp, combining sociopolitical commentary with smart representation. It awakens a longing for a better world I felt when I was 10 years old - watching Star Trek and imagining how incredible the future will be, where we all work together for the betterment of humanity.
I still want that future, though it feels as far away now as it felt almost 30 years ago. For now, I will laugh and cry with the crew of UDC Lovelace, and look out to the stars while waiting for the next book in the series to arrive.
-----Spooky Action at a Distance on Goodreads