‘Linesman’ is the first in what is currently a three-book series by K. T. Dunstall but’ let’s get one thing clear straight away’ S. K. Dunstall is not one author but two! They are in fact the Australian sisters Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall who have teamed up to write the books. Anyway, ‘Linesman’ is a tale set in the far future when humans have spread out from Earth to colonise other planets. There are now three human political entities: the Alliance, Redmond and Gate Union.
While the humans have not encountered any living aliens, the ‘Lines’ technology is based on a derelict alien spaceship found many years ago. What are the Lines I hear you ask. Well, this is the technology that enables a spaceship to traverse the void to travel faster than light. They are Lines of energy that have been harvested to perform a specific function. Each spaceship has 10 Lines and, helpfully, there is a page at the front of the novel that lists the ten Lines and their purpose although what Lines 7 and 8 do is currently unknown.
The job of a Linesman is to fix the Lines as they can become less than optimum over time. This is achieved by the Linesman pushing each line into the desired configuration using nothing but the power of their mind. Of course, it requires a specific talent which only a few gifted people have. Even having the gift isn’t enough as Linesmen are subject to years of training before being certified by the Linesman Guild.
Yes, there is a Guild and there are various cartels who hold the contracts of the Linesman and are responsible for providing them pay, training and work. They also, on occasion, buy and sell the Linesman’s contracts. It reminded me of how football clubs work. Linesmen are certified according to how many Lines they can interact with. A level 10 Linesman can interact with all ten Lines while a level 5 can only deal with Lines 1 to 5.
As the story starts, all the higher-level Linesman (9s and 10s) have been sent to study a newly discovered alien spaceship found at the edge of the galaxy. All except Linesman Ean Lambert, who’s a bit of a maverick. While he may be a level 10, he’s self-taught and the other Linesman treat him with disdain due to his non-standard methods. However, while he’s the only level 10 Linesman available, he’s making an awful lot of money for his cartel. If only he didn’t sing to the Lines!
I realise I’ve spoken about the Lines quite a lot but I should emphasise that ‘Linesman’ is essentially about power struggles within and between the human factions. This is from the viewpoint of Ean Lambert, whose contract is sold by his cartel, under duress, to Lady Lyan who happens to be the daughter of Emperor Yu and next in line to the throne. Emperor Yo rules Lancia, one of the leading worlds of the Alliance.
Lady Lyan uses Lambart’s unique talents to unlock the secrets of the alien spaceship, which inadvertently upsets the balance of power between the factions. This leads to hostilities and outright war with Ean Lambart caught right in the middle. Lots of people want him dead, while many more want to capture him so they can have access to his abilities. He has very few friends but Lady Lyan and her staff are prepared to protect him at all costs.
The story is fast-paced with lots of intrigue and the odd space battle. It doesn’t dwell overmuch on the technical aspects of the Lines. This is good as it doesn’t divert away from what’s happening but bad in that you must accept that the Lines just do what they do without you knowing how they do it. What really makes this a good novel are the characters. There’s a very good mix here but what I liked was that the baddies aren’t necessarily bad, they just happen to be on the other side. There’s even one awful character who happens to be on Lambert’s side.
‘Linesman’ is well worth a read if you like a bit of space opera that’s well-written and fast-paced. The Lines and the alien spaceships provide a good backdrop to the story which, while it ends at a good point, leaves you wanting more. I’m hoping that the second novel ‘Alliance’ can deliver.
(pub: ACE Books, 2015. 372 page paperback. Price: $7.99 (US). ISBN: 978-0-425-27952-6)
check out websites: www.penguin.com and www.skdunstall.com