Impulse is Dave Bara’s debut novel, published earlier this month by DAW. The cover copy starts off like this:
Following in the tradition of such top science fiction writers as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Gordon Dickson, Frank Herbert and Joe Haldeman, Impulse, the first novel of THE LIGHTSHIP CHRONICLES, launches readers on a star-spanning journey of discovery, diplomacy and danger.
Based on the names mentioned in that paragraph, you can probably make some pretty decent assumptions about this novel…and you’d be 100% right. Impulse is aimed squarely at readers hankering for the Good Old Days of Science Fiction, when Old White Dudes wrote stories set in galaxies torn asunder by rival space empires, featuring proper dashing heroes and splashy space battles. This is as traditional a military science fiction novel as you’ll find. If that’s your cup of tea, Impulse may be something worth checking out for you.
Personally, I started getting annoyed early on, in the very first chapter no less, when Lieutenant Peter Cochrane is summoned to his-father-the-Admiral’s office to learn that a “rogue hyperdimensional displacement wave” hit the brand new Lightship Impulse and two of its shuttles, causing multiple casualties including, wait for it, Peter’s girlfriend Natalie.
So. Flux-capacitor-grade technobabble? Check! Girlfriend fridged before we properly get started? Check! Oh, and did I mention that in the very first paragraph we learn that our hero’s older brother was killed in action three years back? I wasn’t kidding when I said “traditional”. Impulse is your everyday, all-purpose military SF space adventure. It’s a story that could be grafted almost perfectly onto the Star Trek universe to make for a decent if unsurprising episode or two.
So, issue number one is the, oh, let’s call it familiarity of the material. Issue number two is characterization. Aside from Peter “I’m going to impress my dad, redeem my dead brother, and avenge my dead girlfriend” Cochran, most of the characters are just empty shells walking around to move the plot along. In that sense, the influence of Isaac Asimov is really noticeable.
To be fair, there are some positives here too. For a debut author, Dave Bara really knows how to tell a story and keep it moving along. He infuses the story with a sense of enthusiasm that actually makes up for some of the issues outlined above: if you’re in the mood for straight-up space adventure brain candy, Impulse will deliver it.
The other bit I really like are the Earth Historians, a weird sect-like group that controls how advanced technology is used and distributed. Bara slowly trickles out information about their nature and motivations, but leaves just as many questions unanswered. I’m unlikely to read the second book in this series, but if I do, it would mostly be to find out more about the Historians.
Impulse by Dave Bara is a novel that, for better and for worse, hearkens back to the Golden Age of Science Fiction. If you’re willing to forgive a reliance on old tropes and thin characters to read a fast-paced, action-packed military space adventure, Impulse may be worth checking out. For me, the good didn’t outweigh the bad, so I doubt I’ll read further into the series.