“Of course we didn’t do autopsies. We know exactly what killed them — I killed them!”
Kylara Vatta, daughter of the head of the most prestigious shipping empire in the universe, didn’t want to follow in her family’s footsteps — trading is boring and Ky wants adventure and her own life outside of her family’s control. So she opted for a military career. But with only a few months left in the officer’s academy, she was set-up, betrayed, kicked out, and publicly shamed. When she returns home in disgrace, Vatta Transport is happy to have her back in the fold. Her first assignment is to captain a derelict spaceship straight to the junkyard, but Ky has Vatta blood in her veins and can’t pass up an advantageous business opportunity that arises unexpectedly. When this leads her into various forms of danger, and when scammers and mutineers think they can take advantage of the young and inexperienced captain, Ky finds that her time spent in the military academy wasn’t wasted after all.
Trading in Danger is the first installment of Elizabeth Moon’s VATTA’S WAR military science fiction epic. I don’t think this series will appeal to everybody, but it happened to hit a sweet spot for me. I like Kylara Vatta, an intelligent ethical rules-bound military officer with a soft heart who, due to her new circumstances, is beginning to discover that she has a rebellious streak, not to mention a disconcerting appreciation for quickly solving problems with violence. Ky is a little passive and occasionally bewildered in this installment, but this is her first adventure. I’m assuming that Moon plans to show us some growth in this area as Ky begins to adapt to her new lifestyle. Kylara’s crew and family members are also likeable — especially elderly Aunt Grace who bakes unappetizing but invaluable fruitcakes.
The plot is engaging, unpredictable and mostly quick-moving though some of the dialog gets repetitive as Ky explains what’s going on to multiple characters who show up at different times. I enjoyed the focus on transportation, though this may be a personal thing. My husband runs a small freight logistics company, so there’s a lot of talk about contracts, cargo, carriers and consignees in my little world, and I was fascinated by how this might scale up to apply to an entire universe. Surprisingly, this was one of my favorite aspects of the story but, again, that’s just me. (It would be such an awful pun to say “your mileage may vary” so I won’t.)
Trading in Danger is “soft” science fiction, or “space opera” — it’s a little fluffy, focusing on drama and political intrigue, not physics. There’s talk about FTL drives and ansibles (there’s a nod to Ursula K. LeGuin), but no explanation of how they work. I love physics but have to admit that I get bored by long dry theoretical or technical discussions of astrophysics and quantum mechanics. Trading in Danger is a quick and easy read for when you’re in the mood for some non-challenging science fiction. It ends on an intriguing note — Ky has some difficult choices to make about her relationship to her family business. Should she stay with Vatta or go rogue? Whatever, I’m still on board and ready for the ride.
I’m listening to VATTA’S WAR in audio format. These were produced in 2008 by Tantor Audio and are read by Cynthia Holloway who does a nice job. I like her voice and she inflects the narrative perfectly (though she always mispronounces the word “peripheral”). I recommend the audio version.