This week, I’m diving into a debut – specifically, Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings, which is out with Solaris on the 12th of May. Both humanity’s past and future hang in the balance in this character driven slice of sci-fi, but what did I make of it? Read on to find out!
This fair and unbiased review was conducted based on a proof copy of the book, which was received with gratitude.
The corporate research vessel Gallion is in trouble, becalmed in a rift in spacetime with no ability to get word out about its plight. Incredibly, they don’t seem to be alone though – the civilian cargo hauler Jonah has also found its way there. But the Jonah and its colourful crew are much more important than they realise – they should be brokering the unlikely peace between humanity and the alien Felen, ending generations of war… 152 years in the Gallion’s past. Both crews will have to find a way to trust each other if they’re to stand any chance of saving themselves and setting the historical record straight.
Of course, trusting one another is easier said than done when both crews are inclined to think the other is lying. The crew of the Jonah – who are known in the time of the Gallion as the Fortunate Five – not only have no idea of the role they’re supposed to be playing, many of them have little inclination to even try to play it. Loveable space scoundrel and Captain of the Jonah Jereth Keeven is mainly interested in getting rich and getting drunk (and not necessarily in that order), and is slow to trust the corporate crew of the Gallion. His first mate Eldric Leesongronski is embittered, weighed down by grief and misfortune – a far cry from the noble figure of history. Meanwhile, the crew of the Gallion are equally distinct – Director of Engineering Uma Ozakka hero worships Leesongronski and reveres the ship he travels on, while Facilities Coordinator Shaan feels her blood pressure rise practically every time Keeven opens his mouth.
They’re big, likeable personalities, and the more we find out about them, the more invested we get in what happens to them. Flashback chapters are dotted throughout the book, helpfully labelled with their time prior to the Rift (relative to that particular character’s timeline). Hutchings makes brief references in the main narrative to events which we later get to see played out in full in these flashbacks, foreshadowing traumatic or significant life events and then hitting you with their horribly inescapable inevitability. We grow to understand why the characters are the way they are in a way that feels organic, years of history covered by snapshots of their lives but with nothing ever feeling rushed. It’s impossible not to feel that you’ve been on a journey with them by the end of the story.
That story itself is something special too, a nicely twisting time travel narrative with the possibility of paradoxes and maybe even total extinction thrown in for good measure. Several key elements of the Jonah legend seem – to history buff Ozakka at least – to be out of place, meaning they not only have to find their way out of the Rift, they also have to work out a way to potentially patch up history. The methods they employ aren’t quite Marty McFly watching himself play Johnny B. Goode, but they have a pleasingly similar flavour. To go any further than that would be to risk spoilers, but the actual plot is just as well considered and intricately worked as the character relationships.
Under Fortunate Stars is as promising as debuts come. It’s got characters you’ll fall in love with, crackling dialogue and plenty of emotional payoff, as well as a hugely satisfying plot with the highest stakes imaginable. I can’t wait to see what Ren Hutchings does next.
Under Fortunate Stars is out on the 12th of May, and is published by Solaris. My thanks to Jess Gofton for furnishing me with an ARC of the book.