Unfriendly Persuasion: A Tale From the Arbiter Chronicles
Steven H. Wilson
Firebringer Press, 428 pp.
Homage can be a very fine line to walk sometimes. Lean a little too much in one direction and you’re a cheap knockoff; too much in another direction and you run the risk of becoming a parody of the original. In Unfriendly Persuasion: A Tale From the Arbiter Chronicles, Steven H. Wilson toes that line in a mostly successful manner. If you’re not familiar with the Arbiter Chronicles (there’s also a long-running audio drama and a previous book, Taken Liberty), they’re set in a very Star Trek-like universe with a Confederation, a Confederate Navy, and an ongoing war with a hostile race of aliens from the Qraitian Empire. Anyone reading this book will clearly see the giant Roddenberryish blueprints underlying the structure of Wilson’s creation. Mostly what you’ll see though is a love for the type of stories that Roddenberry told, told by someone that brings their own personality and ideas into the mix, resulting in a loving homage to classic space opera (with a heaping dose of modern sexuality thrown in for good measure).
Unfriendly Persuasion does not follow directly on the heels of the previous book, instead it picks up shortly after the conclusion of an ongoing storyline from the audio drama. We get a nice quick-moving summary of events that brings the readers up to speed without making them feel that they’ve missed anything important. The early chapters that transition us from the events of the audio drama to the main plot of the book are well-paced and have some brilliantly funny bits in them (although the comedy feels just slightly out of place in comparison to the rest of the book) and in no time at all we’re well into the next crisis for the crew of the Titan.
The Titan and it’s crew are sent to the distant planet of Eleusis, a strategic military asset that has been settled by a colony of Quakers who have peacefully welcomed members of the Qraitian Empire to settle with them as well. Our heroes are tasked with the mission of sniffing out any Qraitian spies and to close off the border to Confederation Space. To complicate matters, a powerful entity that the Eleusians believe to be God is protecting the colony. Anyone even slightly familiar with classic Star Trek will figure out pretty quickly where the story is heading, but the interpersonal conflict amongst the crew of the Titan and the moral dilemmas that they struggle with (side with the pacifistic colonists or stay loyal to the bureaucracy that they work for) proves to be the real meat of the story.
It’s a fast-paced, exciting romp of a story that will be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone with a fondness for classic science fiction. My only real criticism is that Wilson clearly loves his characters, and seems to jump through a few too many hoops to ensure that nothing overly bad happens to any of them before the final curtain falls.