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Ever since he’d decided to quit being a P.I. and to try his hand at running cargo instead, things had just blown up in Timaset Skooch’s face one day at a time. (Florpavian Flamebirds tended to do that occasionally.) Between the labour disputes and accidental deaths among the crew (who believed in settling disputes internally) Tim began to get a headache worse than the ones he got from getting kicked in the head. Just now, things had gone pear shaped again, and he found himself in the middle of a kind of cat and mouse game with some cloaks and daggers thrown in for good measure.
Returning from an evening in Mars City spent visiting relatives he didn’t know he had, Skooch arrived at the local space port to find his new acquisition had been stolen. A few minutes later, the crew of his slightly run-down loderunner “Celeste”, returned from a nearby pub, blind drunk, puzzled, and now unemployed as well.
Tim was sure it had something to do with the 10,000 credits he’d been offered to transport two passengers to an asteroid in the rings of – um, Jupiter (as soon as possible, no questions asked) by a middle-man with no neck and a tendency to smile a lot. Trouble was, now the mob – or someone – seemed to be out to kill them all… He was beginning to regret ever winning that card game!
“Loderunner” is the fourth title in the Quantum Series by Christina Engela.
- Published: March 24, 2019
- Words: 52,455.
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“Loderunner” is the fourth title in the Quantum Series by Christina Engela – a writer described as ‘that rarest of authors – able to seamlessly blend together elements of dark horror and sci-fi to create stories that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.’ (Mark Woods, author of ‘Time of Tides’ and ‘Fear of the Dark‘). Her writing in the sci-fi genre has been described as ‘one of the most unique and captivating styles I’ve encountered in science fiction.’ (Alex S. Johnson, author of The Doom Hippies.)
Set after the third book (“Dead Man’s Hammer“) “Loderunner” introduces new characters and a whole new adventure starting on the by now familiar Terran colony world of Deanna.
Leading characters the reader may be familiar with from previous titles, such as Gary Beck, play cameo and supporting roles in “Loderunner”. The lead in this story is a struggling private investigator by the name of Timaset Skooch, who at the start of the story wins a small pile of loot …in a game of Uno. Part of the pot turns out to be a decrepit old cargo space ship called the Celeste (any alarms going off yet?) which Skooch decides to take out on a voyage with its eccentric and dysfunctional crew across the remotest reaches of Terran space to seek their fortune in the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme.
One of the spanners thrown into the spokes of the wheels of this plan is Skooch’s other half – Dory, who is a complex character in her own right. Dory is transgender, in the early stages of transitioning between male and female, and Timaset Skooch (who had never thought he may not have been entirely heterosexual before meeting Dory in drag on a bender one heavy night at a local night club called ‘the Slipped Disk‘) is understandably confused. The realization that Dory is transgender and that this would mean realigning himself yet again, seems a rather daunting prospect, especially with the headache he still had from getting mugged. Meanwhile, his other half – while supportive and dedicated to their continued partnership – is quite resolute about transitioning. It is on this note that Skooch and the odd-ball crew of the Celeste set off on their – er, oddysey.
On a convoluted journey between systems, stars and planets, Timaset Skooch meets a variety of oddballs, starting with Giggling Harry – a local entrepreneur who introduces him to a couple of guys with no necks, who in turn arrange a fare for him – a couple of passengers traveling from Deanna to a ‘roid in the rings of – er, Jupiter. The passengers cause a bit of upset for the crew – but not because one turns out to be a victim of a kidnapping and also by sheer coincidence, transgender as well! Groaning inwardly at this incredible coincidence, Timaset is forced to confront the fact that he may be losing Dory – as well as facing his own insecurities about gender and sexuality – and the ingrained and entrenched prejudices of some of his crew – while dodging the relentless agents of a dangerous and shadowy organization calling itself ‘the Olduvai Trust’. It is on this note that the intrepid and moribund crew of the Celeste set out to seek their fortunes, traversing the vast territory of the Terran Empire and meeting a collection of strange and interesting characters – and situations along the way.
Transporting livestock turns out to be enough to make a living, although not enough to get rich off. On the plus side, Tim and his crew get to sight-see and visit destinations such as the Rings of Jupiter (don’t ask) and get a closer look at Mars, one of Earth’s oldest and most advanced colonies, as well as Pluto, where the Celeste stops over briefly to drop off a couple of soldiers at the local military outpost after a bender while on furlough. The top of the list however has to be the abandoned ship they encounter in the depths of empty space, where there is no such thing as a free lunch – except of course, if you happen to be a xenomorph guarding a long lost treasure…
Far from being simply a tale of incidental adventure and comedy used as a front for activism into which the author injects a narrative about transgender issues, “Loderunner” is very entertaining, complex and funny.
Interesting Alternative Sci-fi
“Advantages: Interesting alternative sci-fi…..
Disadvantages: Transgender angle feels a bit OTT and in your face at times!
“In space, no one can hear you question your sexuality…….”
This is another tale in transgendered author Christina Engela’s space series and once again based on and around the planet Deanna; an isolated human colony whose sun is called Ramalama and its twin moons, Ding and Dong (a local joke!).
Timaset Skooch is down on his luck. His Pivate Eye business is not doing so well and so he turns to a game of cards to try and keep his mind off his problems. Unfortunately though he wins big, he is promptly mugged. Fortunately, the muggers leave him with the deeds to a cargo ship he has won. A loderunner owned by a local Captain. Unfortunately, Skooch knows nothing about Loderunning…..
In a bid to try and recap his lost winnings, Skooch arranges a series of cargo runs which includes a herd of the square cattle that Deanna is known to breed (easier to store, these cattle nonetheless have a habit of falling over and not being able to get up ~ lord help you if you are underneath at the time!). He also arranges through a local Mafia boss to escort some passengers to a planet back in the home system in the region of Earth. And that is where his problems really begin…..
Because Skooch’s passengers are not what they seem. A point that is made clear when the ship he is supposed to be transporting them to opens fire on Skooch and his loderunner!
This is an interesting sci-fi tale with lots of fun and humour but which radically addresses the whole nature of Gender and what it means to be male/female and every combination of the two. Engela’s transgenderism obviously plays a big part here; Skooch is engaged to a transvestite, convinced he should be a woman. Skooch’s best friend is engaged to a woman who once was a man and one of their passengers also has questions of gender. For those easily offended and not interested in such subjects, this book then should probably be avoided.
But that would be a shame because this is actually quite good sci-fi! Okay, the transgender issue here feels a bit forced down your throat (no pun intended) and there seems to be a LOT of gender-bending going on in such a small area of space but this is an issue that has had its feet in Engela’s work in the past even if not quite this heavily before.
I found that the heavy transgender angle actually distracted here from what was actually quite a clever story. If it had not been quite so blatant though, I think it would have made this novel better! Like I say, I don’t have a problem with it but there do seem to be a lot of transgender characters in this little corner of the universe and that at times strains credibility seeing as they make up only a small part of Earth’s population. Unless you take the opinion that maybe the reason there are so many out here is because they have either been forced to leave Earth or left because of heavy gender prejudice?!?
This is not alluded to however and is just me trying to fill in the gaps. Regardless, aside from all that this is actually not a bad book and it is good to be back on Deanna again which is one of my favourite locales in Engela’s work.
It is only a shame that she has not written much more than the books of hers I have reviewed but then judging at how she has used this particular book as her soapbox maybe that is a good thing. Less, like they say, is sometimes more!” – Mark Woods.
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