In the near future, Earth is overcrowded and we’re heading to space. Star Svensdotter is in charge of getting Ellfive habitat commissioned, and that’s what she’s damn well going to do. Entertaining antics in space here we come.
I found Second Star on a list of interesting but overlooked SFF titles by women (along with a host of others; I’m not going to be short of reading material for some time). I read A Cold Day for Murder last year – the first of Dana Stabenow’s Alaskan-set crime thrillers – and pegged it as lightweight fluff, so I knew more or less what to expect and wasn’t disappointed.
Esther (Star) Svensdotter is a tough Alaskan (of course; she’s a Stabenow protagonist) who isn’t afraid of tough decisions, doesn’t much like politics, and leads from the front (but has a big soft heart). With just weeks left before the big day, she must keep her motley crew of brilliant but wayward senior staff pointed in the right direction, break in her new security chief (fnarr fnarr), deal with the Luddite faction who’d like to see Ellfive literally fall out of the sky, avoid a military takeover by her ex-lover, and figure out whether there really are any aliens out there. Thankfully, her crew are right behind her and several of them know how to cook up a good dinner.
Stabenow likes her female protagonists independent and ornery (so do I), so my only beef with this otherwise entirely entertaining diversion is that she also likes to saddle them with unnecessary romance. It isn’t the main story, it doesn’t ultimately get in the way, but it didn’t add anything to have Star go “kneak weed” (in her sister’s words!) over a bloke who was behaving utterly inappropriately. It doesn’t matter if he’s hot as fresh toast, if he’s flirting – let alone making physical overtures – you don’t let him get away with it on the job. You put him in his place fast and take it off-duty. It was macho bullshit, and Star didn’t put up with it anywhere else. To be fair, I’m objecting to one scene and it’s mild stuff – but it really bothered me, even though I ended up liking the guy.
It’s not brilliant literature by a long stretch, it’s almost old-school in feel, and it’s too neat in places, but I enjoyed it (once Star got her head out of her pants and her mind back on the job – she figured it out in a couple of chapters, so this really didn’t take long). I did like that space is egalitarian. Ellfive is full of capable women heading up functions and just getting the job done; even Space Patrol casually includes female officers without a deal being made out of it. Star reflects at one point that space has attracted women rather than men because men have it easier ‘downstairs’ – women aren’t giving up any opportunities to head up into the sky.
Overall, good not great, but good enough that I’ll probably seek out the sequel at some point when I want some popcorn reading.