Impulse: A familiar throwback to the Golden Age of sci-fi

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsImpulse by Dave Bara science fiction book reviewsImpulse by Dave Bara

Impulse is Dave Bara’s debut novel, published earlier this month by DAW. The cover copy starts off like this:

Following in the tradition of such top science fiction writers as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Gordon Dickson, Frank Herbert and Joe Haldeman, Impulse, the first novel of THE LIGHTSHIP CHRONICLES, launches readers on a star-spanning journey of discovery, diplomacy and danger.

Based on the names mentioned in that paragraph, you can probably make some pretty decent assumptions about this novel…and you’d be 100% right. Impulse is aimed squarely at readers hankering for the Good Old Days of Science Fiction, when Old White Dudes wrote stories set in galaxies torn asunder by rival space empires, featuring proper dashing heroes and splashy space battles. This is as traditional a military science fiction novel as you’ll find. If that’s your cup of tea, Impulse may be something worth checking out for you.

Personally, I started getting annoyed early on, in the very first chapter no less, when Lieutenant Peter Cochrane is summoned to his-father-the-Admiral’s office to learn that a “rogue hyperdimensional displacement wave” hit the brand new Lightship Impulse and two of its shuttles, causing multiple casualties including, wait for it, Peter’s girlfriend Natalie.

So. Flux-capacitor-grade technobabble? Check! Girlfriend fridged before we properly get started? Check! Oh, and did I mention that in the very first paragraph we learn that our hero’s older brother was killed in action three years back? I wasn’t kidding when I said “traditional”. Impulse is your everyday, all-purpose military SF space adventure. It’s a story that could be grafted almost perfectly onto the Star Trek universe to make for a decent if unsurprising episode or two.

So, issue number one is the, oh, let’s call it familiarity of the material. Issue number two is characterization. Aside from Peter “I’m going to impress my dad, redeem my dead brother, and avenge my dead girlfriend” Cochran, most of the characters are just empty shells walking around to move the plot along. In that sense, the influence of Isaac Asimov is really noticeable.

To be fair, there are some positives here too. For a debut author, Dave Bara really knows how to tell a story and keep it moving along. He infuses the story with a sense of enthusiasm that actually makes up for some of the issues outlined above: if you’re in the mood for straight-up space adventure brain candy, Impulse will deliver it.

The other bit I really like are the Earth Historians, a weird sect-like group that controls how advanced technology is used and distributed. Bara slowly trickles out information about their nature and motivations, but leaves just as many questions unanswered. I’m unlikely to read the second book in this series, but if I do, it would mostly be to find out more about the Historians.

Impulse by Dave Bara is a novel that, for better and for worse, hearkens back to the Golden Age of Science Fiction. If you’re willing to forgive a reliance on old tropes and thin characters to read a fast-paced, action-packed military space adventure, Impulse may be worth checking out. For me, the good didn’t outweigh the bad, so I doubt I’ll read further into the series.

Publication Date: February 3, 2015. Lieutenant Peter Cochrane of the Quantar Royal Navy believes he has his future clearly mapped out. It begins with his new assignment as an officer on Her Majesty’s Spaceship Starbound, a Lightship bound for deep space voyages of exploration. But everything changes when Peter is summoned to the office of his father, Grand Admiral Nathan Cochrane, and given devastating news: the death of a loved one. In a distant solar system, a mysterious and unprovoked attack upon Lightship Impulse resulted in the deaths of Peter’s former girlfriend and many of her shipmates. Now Peter’s plans are torn asunder as he is transferred to a Unified Space Navy ship under foreign command, en route to an unexpected destination, and surrounded almost entirely by strangers. To top it off, his superiors have given him secret orders that might force him to become a mutineer. The crisis at hand becomes a gateway to something much more when the ship’s Historian leads Peter and his shipmates into a galaxy of the unknown — of ancient technologies, age-old rivalries, new cultures, and unexpected romance. It’s an overwhelming responsibility for Peter, and one false step could plunge humanity into an apocalyptic interstellar war….

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STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit’s staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. In February 2012, he retired from FanLit to focus on his blog Far Beyond Reality.

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6 comments

  1. I am so tired of the girlfriend who has to die so that the male main character will suffer. Sorry, Natalie.

  2. Hey Marion,

    Just wanted to say that Natalie was an integral character in earlier versions of the book. I was going to have her recur in the series as a way to keep Peter grounded, and constantly questioning his romantic entanglements. Regrettably, and especially on first novels, these elements often get pushed aside by agents and editors in their effort to make the ‘perfect’ book.

    In rewrites on this novel, much of the character stuff ended up going. I hope to put much of that back in as the series goes along. I love character driven stories, and I’m kind of sad that so many reviewers think the characters are thin. That’s not what I intended, nor how I wrote them originally.

    Sincerely,

    Dave B.

  3. Hey Stefan,

    Thanks for the review and the read. I appreciate it.

    Dave B.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Dave, and best of luck with the rest of the series.

  5. Dave — now I feel even more sorry for Natalie! :)

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