Background: Marc Miller is the designer of Traveller, a long established, highly successful and enduring science fiction role-playing game. This book, set in the Traveller universe, was a Kickstarter project that I backed, partly because I wanted to read the book, and partly because I wanted to give some support to Marc as thanks for the many hours of enjoyment Traveller has given me. I wasn’t expecting such a good read; yep, it’s a winner.
The story is largely told through the perspective of Jonathan Bland and the personas he occupies. He is a digital personality of a long dead Imperial Agent – a Decider – who is downloaded onto a living host when the forces of the Imperium need help with a situation. In that role, Bland (acting in place of the Emperor) has supreme authority, and is unafraid to use it. His personality is responsible for more killings than anyone else in the history of humanity.
The story starts with a bang, as we see Bland leap into decisive action to quell a threat to the Empire. From there on, the reader is taken on a roller coaster of a ride, through many situations, back and forwards in time, as the pieces of the puzzle are ably presented by the author. I found myself reading and rereading some chunks to try to keep a handle on the story. Eventually it dawned on me that the Imperial date that prefaces each chapter is there for a reason. Once I started using that as a pointer, things became a lot easier.
There is no need to know anything about the Traveller universe, as there is plenty of supporting material. For example, some of the game systems are described so you can better understand the worlds that the characters are interacting with. This helps do more than set the scene, as it gives a fine sense of the breadth and depth of the adventures, as well as the extent of the variety in the Imperium. However, Bland’s adventures may well carry you through all on their own. They are economically portrayed, with one eye on the ticking clock as the suspense builds.
But don’t think this is just some smash and grab all action pulp fest. There are thoughtful questions posed in the book, and not all seem to have straightforward answers. In short, there’s more than enough to make you think. So much so, that after finishing the book, the first thing I did was to go back to the beginning and read it through again.
This had a sense of classic science fiction, and gave me back – for the first time in a while – that combined sense of awe, amazement, and bewilderment I had the first time I discovered the genre. (Sort of my own time travelling experience!) I thoroughly enjoyed this, and recommend it for all who read and enjoyed the classics of science fiction.