Transmission Lost, by Stefan C. Mazzara – Book Review by Fred Patten.
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Transmission Lost, by Stefan C. Mazzara.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, September 2015, trade paperback $14.50 (unpaged [474 pages]), Kindle $6.99.
Transmission Lost is categorized as science fiction, not furry fiction. Its plot is very stereotyped, but one that a furry fan can enjoy. A human spaceman befriends an animal-like member of an alien civilization and brings peace and friendship to both cultures.
Jack Squier is a 26-year-old civilian cargo pilot with Stellar Horizons (“You have it, we’ll ship it! Lightspeed guaranteed!”) in the far future. The UN Navy, which seems to be part of a large interstellar human civilization (does UN still stand for “United Nations”?), is fighting against the alien feline Ascendancy, a.k.a. the Ailians. The UN Navy, due to running low on transport ships after ten years of war, contracts with Stellar Horizons in NYC to deliver combat supplies to the front. The route that SH gives to Jack cuts briefly through Ailian-controlled space, but he’s assured that he doesn’t have anything to worry about.
“‘The Star’s Eye is the largest cargo ship we have that still carries a one-man crew. Relax, Jack, you’re only gonna be in Ailian space for two realspace stops. The rest of it’s hyperspace until you get to the Antaeus sector. By then you’ll be well within friendly territory. Don’t worry about it. Besides, you hate working with other people, remember? Consider this a blessing.’” (p. )
The enemy is the Ascendancy, an alien interstellar empire somewhere around the Outer Milky Way worlds.
“First contact had been been made [when Jack had been sixteen years old] with the Ascendancy, an empire spanning several galaxies inhabited by the feline race of the Ailians. Looking as a cross between a ten-foot-tall human and Bengal tiger, the Ailians were strong, ruthless, and extremely protective of their territory. And as it just so happened, humanity had unknowingly begun to encroach upon that territory. Thus humanity had entered into war with the Ascendency, just as determined to expand their borders and claim much-needed resources as the Ailians were to retain them and take over human territory for their own.” (pgs. [3-4])
Mazzara writes very good space opera of the old-fashioned “Flash Gordon” variety, even if I do have serious reservations about spaceships blasting off for the other side of the galaxy from a spaceport in New York City. They have controls about as simple as 21st-century automobiles, too.
“‘Star’s Eye, you’ve got clear weather, and winds less than five kilometers per hour. You’re clear to take off whenever you’re ready.’
Jack strapped himself in, flexing his fingers around the dual joystick-type handgrips which served to control his ship. […] He flipped several switches and was rewarded with a strong thrum from the four engines as they powered on. With a press down of his left foot, the ship leapt off the spaceport tarmac to an altitude of a hundred meters in an instant.” (pgs. [4-5])
Naturally, Jack’s peaceful cargo run is interrupted by an enemy patrol boat; a one-being gunboat similar to but more powerful than his own. The space battle described seems modeled upon Battle of Britain dogfights, at really close quarters.
“Jack looked over as the Ailian ship pulled alongside his. While he was certain the pilot of the other vessel could see into his cockpit, Jack couldn’t see through the blacked-out viewports of the other. Nevertheless, he knew the enemy pilot was looking right at him, so he smiled and gave a jaunty wave. Fighting the nausea that was threatening to make him spew his guts all over his controls, Jack reached for the override switch that controlled the safeguards on his hyperspace engines.” (p. )
Jack’s shot-up ship emerges from hyperspace near an uncharted planet. He crash-lands. So does the equally shot-up Ailian fighter.
Jack’s preparations for leaving his wrecked spaceship to explore an unknown planet seem more like exploring a dangerous Southeast Asian jungle.
“Jack returned to his cabin, opening a locked compartment underneath the bed. Reaching inside, he drew out a belt made of military-spec webbed material. Attached to it was a holster, magazine pouches, a flashlight, and a small fixed-blade knife. Jack checked the holster out of habit. Fitted snugly inside was a matte-black .45 semiautomatic. The same one, in fact, that he’d carried as a pilot in the Navy. Jack enjoyed shooting and he’d kept up with it after retiring from the military. With ten shots in the magazine, one in the chamber, and four spare magazines n his belt, Jack would feel quite a bit stepping out onto an unfamiliar planet with it than he would have without it. He strapped the belt around his waist, and went back to the door.” (pgs. [11-12]. Note “door”, not “airlock”.)
And naturally he immediately meets the Ailian pilot.
‘Three meters tall. Pale orange, black-striped fur. A long tail, nearly half as long as the body was tall. Bipedal, two arms, carrying a rifle only vaguely similar to Jack’s own. Clad in a singed red flight suit, bright yellow eyes reflecting the firelight. Female.” (p. )
The female Ailian, who speaks English with what reads like a strong Russian accent, is Lieutenant Aria Me’lia. They have a stereotypical trek through the jungle/forest as reluctant allies, saving each other’s lives and bonding together. The exotic alien animals will be appreciated by furry fans, too.
“The larger animal howled in frustration as its prey escaped up the tree. Jack got a good look at it as it stood at the base of the tree, staring up at the escaped animal. The predator was huge, easily as big as Jack and maybe just a little bigger. Like the smaller animal, it had four legs, but the similarities stopped there. Twin tails extended from its haunches, each of them tipped with a wicked-looking short blade of what looked like blackened bone or horn. The blades glimmered in the firelight, shining with a natural polish. Each of the beast’s four paws ended in short, slightly curved claws. The most fearsome part of it was its muzzle, which was longer than a wolf’s and was filled with twin rows of sharp, shark-like teeth. The animal was covered with fur in a pattern of green, brown, and black, the perfect natural camouflage.” (p. )
“Jack opened his eyes and found himself face to face with a large dog-like creature. The blue-furred beast was gazing at him with five large green eyes arranged in a pentagon on its head, four nostrils flaring as it sniffed at him. It had been prodding at his face with one paw. Jack slowly raised his head, and the animal jumped back from him, spooked. Shying back several more steps, it turned and ran off into the distance.” (p. )
The trek includes having to climb a low mountain range. There’s a waterfall shower scene, of course.
“Aria was standing up in the waterfall, her face turned up to the cascade as she let the water flow over her. She was turned towards Jack, slightly to one side, but she hadn’t seemed to notice him. Inadvertently she was giving him quite the eyeful. Jack had already seen her nude a few times before, of course, when he was tending her wounds and in the tent, but that had been in close quarters and he hadn’t been bold enough, or interested enough, to look for more than a few seconds. But now the setting and her unguarded appearance was piquing his curiosity.” (pgs. [56-57])
By the time Jack and Aria do find help, they are more than just good friends. The “help” is of a dubious nature, however.
“‘Pirates.’ Jack said, the fear obvious in his voice. ‘That’s the insignia of the Scorpion Guild. Before the war started, they were the biggest threat to shipping in human space. They still operate throughout the war zone and all over the galaxy. They’re part of the reason that the military has a shortage of transport vessels. I bet that’s one they stole.” (p. )
This is barely a quarter of Transmission Lost. Plotwise, it’s a combination of well-worn newspaper comic-strip s-f and the “space empire” skullduggery that Edmond Hamilton used to churn out in the 1940s Captain Future pulps and novels like the 1949 The Star Kings. (Full disclosure: I loved The Star Kings. My junior high school library had it, and I must’ve read it a half-dozen times.) But Mazzara’s breezy, well-fleshed-out writing keeps it feeling fresh, at least as it relates to Jack Squier and his ten-foot-tall anthropomorphic tigress partner/mate (cover by Tyler McDonald). And when they get off that jungle planet and into the flow of Ascendancy society, and then the maelstrom of Ascendancy politics – well, there are enough ten-foot-tall tigeroids for everyone. If you like undemanding space opera adventure with furry aliens, you’ll like Transmission Lost.