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The Outback Stars    by Sandra McDonald order for
Outback Stars
by Sandra McDonald
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Outback Stars opens a new military SF series with a Down Under flavor. The fact that its author, Sandra McDonald is herself a former naval officer shows in the credible detail incorporated on shipboard roles and responsibilities. As the story opens, its protagonist, Lieutenant Jodenny Scott, is miserably grounded on the planet Kookaburra, awaiting a new berth. She's been there since the tragic destruction of her previous spaceship, the Yangtze, believed to be at the hands of Colonial Freedom Project terrorists. Jodenny lost many friends and shipmates and was badly injured in an act of heroism that won her the MacBride Cross.

Jodenny pulls strings, exploiting her status as a hero, to jump queue for an assignment on the freighter Aral Sea. Waiting to board she encounters Sergeant Terry Myell, who's contemplating going AWOL to avoid the prejudice and abuse he knows awaits him on the freighter. Terry has been targeted by a gang, led by the notorious Chief Chiba, and was unjustly accused of rape - though the charge was dropped, many still believe him guilty. Jodenny is assigned the Underway Stores division (the previous officer was mysteriously injured in a car accident), of which Terry is a member. The group is known for its bad apples. Jodenny is further dismayed to bump into Commander Sam Osherman on board - he was her lover for a while on the Yangtze.

As the Aral Sea journeys the alien-built Alcheringa, which allows travel between worlds, Jodenny settles into her new job, making badly needed changes, dealing with slackers in her staff, and uncovering a series of mysteries. Myell is attacked again by Chiba's cohorts, makes a pet of a gecko he finds in his quarters, and has strange dreams of the Outback and the Dreamtime. They reach the planet Mary River, where Terry visits his family and Jodenny has an unexpected adventure that moves her into his orbit, one that she's beginning to find very attractive. Together, they make a discovery related to an alien transportation device, but keep it to themselves.

Back on board, the plot quickly thickens as they're embroiled, to their own peril, in a fleet-wide investigation (involving Osherman amongst others) into the large-scale theft of military equipment. They come under suspicion, go AWOL for real, but make it back again to rejoin the Aral Sea for a cliffhanger crisis as a grand finale. I enjoyed The Outback Stars very much, and hope it's just the first in an exciting new series.

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