Disclosure: I received this book for free from the author for purposes of review.
When I received Aetna Adrift from the author, Erik Wecks, at OryCon last year, I saw that the book was a prequel to another series of books that he’d put out – his Pax Imperium series. Before I accepted the book, I asked if he considered the book to be a decent jumping point to this series. He said it was. I was a little unsure, but I accepted the book anyway. The good news is that the book is. It starts on a rough foot, but once it really gets going, it makes for an enjoyable read.
The book is set at a somewhat unspecified point in the future. Humanity has traveled to the stars and has splintered into a series of various governments. One of these is the Unity Corporation – a totalitarian corporate state, with internal politics that can best be described as literally cut-throat.
Out in the ass end of the Unity is the planet Aetna, an ice planet (similar somewhat to Europa) that is home to a hydrogen mining operation. On that planet is Jack Halloway, who is doing his damndest to stay under the radar, out of the way, and in the process retain a degree of personal independence. In this case he does it by running a small smuggling operation bringing luxury goods into the colony. However, when a Unity executive by the name of Timothy Randall shows up on Aetna with his entourage, and ropes Jack into his plans on pain of death, things start going very bad, very fast, and it takes all of Jack’s craftiness and a lot of luck to get through this alive.
So, Jack Halloway is our viewpoint character, and our lens through which we view society in the Unity. The problem is that life in the Unity is pretty rough and dystopian, some elements of which Jack recognizes as bad, but others he accepts as normal, but I, the reader, see as negative, since I’m an outsider. This is especially the case for women in Unity society, and it clearly comes across that way in the book. However, for most of the book Jack doesn’t notice it, because it’s either not a problem for him, or he’s in a position to benefit from it – and by the time that changes in the book, there’s enough other stuff going on that other matters are pressing concerns, until the very end of the book.
Getting into the positives, Wecks creates an interesting cyberpunk-adjacent world here, a setting that gets into some of the elements of cyberpunk, but with the addition of interstellar travel. Where this gets interesting in particular is that most works of Cyberpunk don’t get much into what life in a corporate state is really like. Wecks gets into that. It’s all the worst parts of real world corporate politics, with a side of Robocop’s corporate politics as well.
Aetna Adrift did get me more interested in checking out some of the rest of the original Pax Imperium series, to see how well those books present the larger universe.