Zounds! In his novel Rogue Hunter: Quest of the Hunter, Kevis Hendrickson takes full advantage of that most-neglected letter of the alphabet when naming his characters: from the heroine, the zaftig bounty hunter Zyra Zanr, to his arch-villains, the sinister crime syndicate Zaragos. Add some life-long vendettas into the mix and we’ve got a story zappy with zealotry.
[Is it just me, or is the letter Z looking really weird right about now? Vocab vertigo, or something.]
Alliteration aside (see what I did there?), Hendrickson’s space opera has a lot more going for it than the somewhat cliche, overly-“futuristic” name choices might suggest. It’s just what Wikipedia tells us a space opera should be:
A subgenre of speculative fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced technologies and abilities. The name has no relation to music, since it is by analogy to soap operas (see below). Perhaps the most significant trait of space opera is that settings, characters, battles, powers, and themes tend to be very large-scale. Sometimes the term space opera is used in a negative sense, to denote bad quality science fiction, but its meaning can differ, often describing a particular science fiction genre without any value judgment.
I’m no science fiction purist. I got into a small-scale comment thread debate on a previous review I wrote about just this topic: science fiction versus Science Fiction. First of all, Plantonic capitalization really doesn’t work for anyone but Emily Dickinson. Second, who the hell cares? Hard SF, Soft SF, Social Science Sci-Fi, Speculative fiction, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Slipstream, the “New Weird”–to flash back to my high school mock trial days, it’s a distinction without a difference, Your Honor. A professor recently called me a “lumper,” rather than a “splitter,” and that’s just fine. Let’s leave the minute categorizations to Linnaeus, shall we?
With that said, when I use the term “space opera,” I’m in that latter group–denoting a genre, not making a snide remark on quality. I made a snide remark about Zyra’s name, and about her svelte and zaftic physique defying the laws of gravity (see above), but after the following colon I’ll be completely sincere: Rogue Hunter is a fast read, and an excellent adventure.
Yes, there is some seriously melodramatic melodrama–the beautiful Zyra becomes a bounty hunter to avenge her father’s brutal murder by Zaragos, and then (spoiler alert!) her fiance’s. But the other defining characteristics of the genre–large-scale conflict, space travel, galaxy-wide conspiracies, alien races, epic battles and epic heroes–can be incredibly entertaining. And in this case, the quest of our Herculean heroine Zyra Zanr is clearly the focus of the novel.
Far-flung, far-future stories necessitate a glimpse into the technology of our distant descendants (ye gads, I just can’t stop!). Hard SF devotees won’t like the dearth of technical details in Kevis Hendrickson’s writing, but I’m satisfied with the glimpse I get–especially when the writing is so clever (I guess 52nd century humans don’t recognize the irony in an “Icarus Tech Propulsion Pack,” or the appropriateness of a computer hacker named “Logos”).
The technology involved is creative, but seems so natural as not to need exhaustive explanation. And the ideas stick with you–I had a “wow, that’s brilliant” moment when Hendrickson introduced the cryo-chamber unit in Zyra’s ship:
As a matter of standard space-faring knowledge, cry-chambers were installed in every cruiser-class starship as a last-means emergency device. Assuming that all other options had been exhausted to repair a starship, and flight controls or life-support systems were lost, the idea was that the ship’s pilot could activate the cryo-chamber unit, and put herself into suspended animation with the hope that somewhere along the line someone would locate the ship and rescue her, even if it took many years.
It makes perfect sense that, with distances of light years and parsecs separating spacefarers, cryogenics could be a practical tool. Commonly-used, even. I just never would have thought of it.
But like I said, Rogue Hunter‘s about the hunter herself: Zyra Zanr, the bounty hunter. Here’s how she describes herself and her career:
“Bounty hunting’s a fancy way of saying: Look at me, I’m a dysfunctional human being and my life’s a wreck. Get too close and you’ll be sorry!”
Sad for Zyra, but awesome for us–because a book about a polished, put-together bounty hunter would be no fun at all.
Zyra has some serious inner turmoil going on. One the one hand, she’s an Alliance Space Marine Academy dropout in the fugitive business for some quick cash. Bounty hunting’s a purely practical matter.
One the other, she’s fueled by revenge, that most enduring motivator. Leaving a trail of corpses behind her, Zyra doesn’t make too many friends among the InterGalactic Police–except for space cop deputy Hunter, her ill-fated lover, who knows exactly how messed-up his fiancee is:
“Worse yet, you’ve finally pissed off the IGP… in your defense, I told the other back at the barn that you’re just a damn overly-committed zealot. A hopelessly desperate, overly-committed zealot, but a zealot no less.”
Love you too, babe!
That sort of complexity makes me think twice about the title–and whether Zyra’s hunting rogues, or the rogue herself. Dysfunctional and operatic as her life may be, I like Zyra, and I like reading about her. What else do I need to say? Oh, right:
Rogue Hunter: Quest of the Hunter is available as an ebook on Amazon for $0.99
This has been the 150th post of the Scattering. Bully for me.