First, a bit of context. Before SF grandmaster Robert Heinlein wrote novels like Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Time Enough for Love, he wrote a set of novels for Scribner’s between 1947 and 1958 that reviewers and critics refer to as the “Heinlein Juveniles”. These were novels primarily aimed at teenage boys, and intended to present challenging content to young readers, but proved enjoyable for readers of all ages and genders. I’ve read several of them myself, so I think it’s fair to suggest that indie novelist LJ Cohen’s Derelict is a modern YA space opera in the tradition of Heinlein’s young-adult works.
Derelict revolves primarily around Rosalen Maldonado’s efforts to wrest her life from the grip of her abusive father Alain and get away from Daedalus Station. Alain is a suspicious character. He’s never received a promotion, or had a contact renewed, but he always manages to get new jobs — and always drags Ro along with him. As a result, she’s a young woman old before her time, unused to friendship or affection.
All Ro wants is to get out from under her father’s and begin her life. Commander Mendez, the officer governing Daedalus, offers a way out: accept a paid engineering internship, which after a year comes with the right to apply for a transfer off Daedalus as a full citizen. It isn’t everything she wanted, but the internship presents an opportunity to tinker with the derelict ship that had been tethered to Daedalus for years.
However, opportunity flies in tandem with danger as Ro awakens the ship’s AI only to find that it was left deranged by the malware that made a derelict of it. Nor is Ro alone in her danger, as she must work with three other youths from the station — one with a traumatic head injury — to communicate with the ship’s AI and regain control.
Complicating this primary plot are a subplot involving weapons smuggling, as well as a hint at a romance between a newly arrived communications officer named Konomi Nakamura and Ro. This romantic subplot is handled very subtly. While it’s fairly obvious that Nomi likes women, Ro’s upbringing has left her so starved for simple affectionate human contact that her eventual receptiveness to Nomi’s overtures may be more about tenderness than sexuality.
I doubt a reasonable parent considering a purchase for their children would find anything egregious about the relationship between Ro and Nomi, though the liberal use of profanity might raise a few eyebrows. I noticed one reviewer griping about Ro telling her father to “fuck off”, to which I can only say, “The abusive bastard had it coming”.
Regardless, I stand by my comparison with Heinlein. Had the Dean of SF been born fifty years later, I think he would have been proud to have written Derelict himself.
<figcaption class="wp-caption-text">A juvenile worthy of Robert Heinlein</figcaption></figure>
When Rosalen Maldonado tinkers with the derelict freighter, she’s just hoping to prove she deserves a scholarship to University. She certainly doesn’t count on waking the ship’s damaged AI or having three stowaways, Micah Rotherwood and brothers Jem and Barre Durbin, along for the ride. They all have their private reasons for hiding aboard and lives they are seeking to escape, but if the accidental crew can’t work together and learn to trust each other, they’ll die together, victims of a computer that doesn’t realize the war ended decades before any of them were even born.
Derelict by LJ Cohen is available on Amazon.com.