Alliance Rising by C. J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher (SF Novel, January 2019).
Co-writing with spouse Jane S. Fancher, multiple Award-Winning SF superstar C. J. Cherryh returns to her long-running Alliance-Union Universe with this fine novel. The action centers around Alpha, orbiting Bernard’s Star and thus one of the nearest space-stations to Earth. Humans began spreading out among the stars generations ago, using ships traveling at sub-light speeds requiring years for voyages between systems. Then a technology for faster-than-light jumps between systems was developed by one of the outer colonies. They refused to share the tech with Earth, but otherwise this vastly sped things up.
But not all the interstellar jump corridors connect with one another and even those that do require very special skills and training to navigate. The sole known direct connection to Sol (and therefore Earth) ran to Proxima Centauri and Beta Station. But a mysterious disaster destroyed that important outpost and so frightened everyone that jumping into that system is now totally off-limits.
Alpha Station has jump connections (either directly or through multiple jump sites) to several more distant colonies, on distant planets and space-stations. But ships from Sol still have to travel there at sub-light speeds, with the journey taking multiple years. This transportation bottleneck could only be overcome by discovering a new jump route.
Spoiler alert: Late in this novel a possible new (secret) route is about to be tested and will key much of the book’s final actions.
In the meanwhile, the more distant colony worlds and stations have evolved their own cultures and a couple have become semi-independent rivals to Earth.
The comparative handful of skilled spacers that crew the interstellar ships (they call themselves Merchanters) are another group unto themselves–with their own distinct culture and aspirations. But to date each ship does its own thing, rather than pooling their resources. Changing that is the primary mission of a ship paying an unexpected visit to Alpha from the Beyond (as the independent outer colony worlds and stations are known).
But Earth’s government still retains a semblance of control over the struggling Alpha Station. Caught between the old power of Earth and the rising forces beyond, it has become something of a backwater. To get back in the interstellar game (by regaining control of the outer colonies), Earth stole plans for a huge FTL ship from one of the competing worlds and has built their own starship, called The Rights of Man, at Alpha Station’s space-dock.
The rest of the station has been neglected and resents Earth’s ordering all available resources to a project and a ship that lacks apparent purpose–not to mention a capable, trained crew to fly it.
The sudden arrival of the huge FTL ship that The Rights of Man is an inferior copy of stirs up considerable trouble. Its captain intends on enlisting all the interstellar ships in a kind of union (the ‘rising’ Alliance in the title). This is a direct challenge to Earth’s authority and is the other main focus of the book’s plot.
There are plenty of interesting characters, with varied agendas and how the various cultural groups (Stationers, Merchanters and Earth folk) act and interact is well presented. Fans of such previous efforts as Downbelow Station or the Faded Sun books will undoubtedly be quite pleased with this new addition to this Future History.