Volume 15, Number 03, Summer, 1997

Bretta Martyn

By L. Neil Smith

(TOR, 1997, $24.95, 384pp, hc)
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
June, 1997

L. Neil Smith is perhaps the most consistent voice in libertarian science fiction. His style is memorable, his characters vivid, his worlds detailed, and his politics unmistakably and unapologetically libertarian. If there is any writer who embodies libertarian sf it is L. Neil Smith.

Bretta Martyn, Smith's sequel to the space pirate novel, Henry Martyn, dazzles the reader with equal if not greater intensity than its predecessor. Fifteen years have passed in Arran's world, yet Smith picks up where he ended almost seamlessly.

In Henry Martyn, Arran Islay, the youngest member of the Islay family of the planet Skye, saw his family betrayed and murdered, and himself thrust into the life of a slave aboard a spaceship. That book narrated Arran's rapid rise to captain of his own spaceship, and scourge of deep space and the Hannoverian rulers who conspired against his family. Fifteen years later we find young Arran married and settled on Skye with his wife Lorreana, and his six children. Along with his wife, and his oldest and favorite daughter, Bretta, he is summoned to meet with the new Ceo (as the rulers are called) of Hannover, his former tutor Lia Woodgate.

Woodgate has just learned some disturbing news. It turns out that Lorreana's mother, a former high ranking member of the Hannoverian upper class who disappeared shortly after her daughter's birth, has turned up again unexpectedly. Upon her capture by pirates, she was forced to become the ship's whore. Formerly a very beautiful woman, she has aged far beyond her proper age, and is now a senile, disheveled crone who calls herself Owld Jen. She shows up at the doorstep of her brother, currently out of favor with the ruling elite, along with her son Woulf, and hints that she knows how to end the Oplyte Slave Trade.

This scourge of Hannoverian space, quite similar to the African slave trade from the seventeenth through eighteenth centuries, is actually a process where average men are kidnapped, inserted with nanomites, and kept in tightly packed vats until they turn into mindless warriors. These warriors serve as bodyguards and soldiers to the various directorates across space, thus making the trade very profitable. Ceo Woodgate aims to stop this trade, and knows that Arran Islay, famed as the great pirate captain Henry Martyn, is perhaps the only person who can end this trade.

Arran and his family, along with his friend Phoebus Krumm from his Henry Martyn days, and a handful of individuals picked by Lia Woodgate (including her father, the former Ceo of Hannover), Owld Jen and Woulf, embark on a mission to find the center of the Oplyte Trade.

Naturally, treachery befalls the group and young Bretta finds herself fighting for her life, and revenge. The unfortunate part of this book is that not until it is half-way through does Bretta's storyline really take off. The book's title, after all, implies this is about her, though it as much about Arran's difficulties as a father and as a statesman, as well as the various societies of Smith's universe.

Not that this universe is dull. Smith has created a superb space opera, where the ships sail through space on tachyon winds, and the people speak in High English. This novel is definitely an homage and an allusion to the great pirate novels and pirate movies we all read as kids, updating the setting to the soaring dark seas of the universe.

To spice up the novel even more, Smith has tied together the universe of another novel, The Wardove, which was book one of the unfinished "Nathaniel Blackburn Trilogy." Located on Earth's moon, this fiercely libertarian society, known as the Confederate Arm, features prominently later in the novel, as we learn more about the forces behind the Oplyte Trade and their enemies. The astute reader may even notice a brief reference to a character from Smith's Free Space story, "A Matter of Certainty."

Bretta Martyn leaves the reader with never a dull moment. I think young Bretta may instantly become a favorite character of Smith's readers. She is fearless, spirited, intelligent, and inventive. She is the kind of character we want to see more of, and if this series becomes a trilogy, I implore Smith to give her the entire next book.

The language and style of the book, though consistent with the theme and how the world is designed may at times become a stumbling block. But, once again, Neil Smith shows why he is a favorite among libertarian sf fans. He does not compromise on his politics, his action sequences are riveting and breathless, and the background immaculate. Bretta Martyn is pure adventure, mixed in with great ideas.

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