Review: Renegade

Renegade is, of course, a corny eighties show starring Lorenzo Lamas, but it is also a science fiction novel by Joel Shepherd. I’m going to talk about the latter today. Reviewing the other Renegade could be interesting as well, but maybe another time.

The story

Erik Debogande is a lieutenant commander on the battle carrier Phoenix. He’s also the heir to one of the wealthiest families in the part of the galaxy ruled by humans.

Aliens enslaved humanity long ago, but humans rebelled. Centuries of war have led to the destruction of Earth, conflicts with a number of species, but also a large number of planets under human control.

At the start of the story the wars have just ended, and peace is at hand. When Erik’s captain, the legendary Captain Pantillo is arrested and killed by Fleet Command, peace ends for Erik. He and the crew of Phoenix go renegade in order to bring their own commanders to justice.

The interesting thing about this novel – and its sequel, which I’m currently reading – is that humanity is the bully on the block. Many science fiction novels put humanity on a shiny path where we become the shining beacon of hope in the galaxy. Shepherd posits a future where humanity has been nearly wiped out, and centuries of fighting have resulted in a traumatized war-mongering people.

The characters

Erik is a somewhat stiff but capable pilot. He has his flaws, but he knows when to take charge. His honor carries him and the crew forward when their captain is arrested and they have to go renegade. However, maybe I’ve seen too many movies, but I found him a bit of a cliché. Not so much that it pulled me out of the story, but there’s nothing fresh and new about the character.

Trace Thakur is Erik’s Marine Commander. Her marines are the troops that board enemy ships and capture space stations. Trace is part of an elite group of warriors who dedicate themselves to Fleet and ban all emotions. Again, she is a bit of a cliché.

The rest of the cast consists of Erik’s sister, other crew members and some aliens. I’ll not say they are badly written, but the crew, for example, I couldn’t keep apart. I’d expected something more. On the other hand, the story is tightly focused on Erik and Trace, so there might not have been enough room.

I read Shepherds first trilogy about a rogue android who is also a nymphomaniac, and I have to say, his depth of character has improved. And – of course – I can’t say characterization is my strong suit, so pot, kettle, etc.

The verdict

Renegade is a thrill ride. It pushes all the right military fiction buttons. As a fan of games like Star Control 2 and Mass Effect, I can’t but like Renegade as well.

That said, the story is far from flawless. Human culture seems implausibly one-dimensional: there are Worlders and Spacers, and the crew-goes-rogue-to-bring-bad-leaders-to-justice plot has been done.

Where the story shines, though, is the combat sequences and tension. Once it got going, I found it to be a page turner.

If you like military science fiction meets space opera, this is the story for you. If you’re more into deep stories with complex themes, or hard science fiction, go elsewhere.

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands