Science-fiction takes many forms, but there are two archetypes which nearly all science-fiction stories fall into. First, there is the hard sci-fi. The Expanse, The Three-Body Problem, anything by Robert A. Heinlein. These are the stories which pay extra attention to the technologies of the future and go to great lengths to explain exactly how races have progressed to their points. This type of science-fiction can be literary, it can be intellectual, and it can be gritty. On the other end of the spectrum is the space opera. Star Wars, Firefly, A Princess of Mars. In space operas the technology is present, but is not central to the story. These stories are all about the characters. Where hard sci-fi series can fluctuate between multiple viewpoints, space operas relish in following an individual or a group of characters throughout their adventure. As our world changes and progresses, hard science-fiction and sometimes feel outdated, but space operas are timeless. Polaris Rising is very much a space opera.
Jessie Mihalik did not begin her career wanting to be a writer. Very few truly talented writers do. Instead, she followed her other passion and studied Computer Science which, as most people understand, is of a very difficult difficulty than writing. This degree led her to become a software engineer, but there must have always been something tugging at the back of her mind during this era. Something many artists know very well; that urge to create, the feeling that, if you are not creating, you are not living. In her college years, Mihalik dabbled with fan fiction, but never saw writing as the way forward for her. Like many amateurs, it took National Novel Writing Month to rekindle that interest in storytelling. That led to Mihalik attending a writing workshop and eventually pitching to an apparently very understanding and supportive agent. Polaris Rising is her debut novel, and I am very much a fan.
Polaris Rising takes place in a future where the known galaxy is ruled by three High Houses. The Rockhursts, the Yamados, and the von Hasenbergs. Together, these three ruling families make the Consortium, the only apparent form of government in known space. This is an entirely human centric civilization where our reaching out to the stars has not yet included alien contact. Technology is very advanced, however, with faster than light travel readily available, although the fuel consumption and toll on engines serves a brake. Despite the science-fiction trappings, this is very much a feudal society. The Consortium leads humanity from their stronghold on Earth, but allows a degree of smuggling and mercenary work throughout their empire. Mihalik seems to understand how deep class divides can be, and it is apparent that the Consortium lives an entirely different existence, lording over the rest of humanity.
Polaris Rising is told entirely from the first-person point-of-view of Ada von Hasenberg, fifth out of six children to the head of House von Hasenberg. Ada was trained in the arts of courtly espionage and tradecraft, manners and firearms, negotiation and piloting. Ada, like her other siblings, was not content to just go along with their father’s machinations. Unlike her other siblings, Ada ran rather than be married as a political pawn in the games of royalty. Over the course of the novel, we witness her compassion and lasting loyalty to her family. Despite living on both sides of the spectrum, Ada never lost her connections and her skills. The other main character in this story, though seen through Ada’s eyes, is Marcus Loch. Loch is the most wanted man in the galaxy, a wanted criminal infamous for his cruelty and cunning. Of course, Ada is instantly attracted to him and learns about the man under the wanted poster.
The plot begins as Ada is captured for the bounty on her head. A bounty her own father put into place in order to get her back and finalize her marriage to Richard Rockhurst, child, but not heir, to another house. All part of the game. While captured, the mercenaries house her with Marcus Loch, also recently captured, in an effort to intimidate her into cooperation. This does not work and, instead, the two make an uneasy alliance in an effort to escape when Richard appears and attacks the ship. While we never learn exactly why the Rockhursts and the von Hasenbergs are so eager to marry off Ada, this marriage forms the driving push behind the plot. In their escape from Richard, Ada and Loch steal one of ships containing an experimental hyperdrive engine, capable of performing the action must faster than the other ships in this world. In the world of Polaris Rising, this is world-changing technology. Ada and Loch band together to find out the truth about what is going on, falling deeper and deeper into their attraction and scaring themselves with the depth of their feelings for one another. Space operas are not just about adventure, they are about romance.
As with any romance, sex is important in Polaris Rising, and this is a sexy book with some of the most realistic portrayals of sex in genre literature. Most novels, if they are not explicitly about this subject, take a very high-brow look at sex scenes. They usually end quickly or imply the act. The use various censored words or euphemisms to described various parts of anatomy. Writers use words like “wetness” or “member” or “sex” when talking about body parts. Books can take a very conservative approach to sex, usually to comical results as authors try to write a serious scene with a limited vocabulary. In Polaris Rising, a clitoris is a clitoris. Mihalik writes about two characters falling deeply for each other, and makes it utterly believable to her audience. Rarely are female characters allowed to pursue relationships or embrace the lust along with the love. Ada and Loch care deeply for one another, and their scenes together make it clear they want the other to enjoy the time spent together. It can be refreshing to read a novel which does not shy away from the reality of love.
Jessie Mihalik’s debut novel is a fun, sexy, inventive new space opera. Polaris Rising is action, it is romance, it is political intrigue, it is adventure, and it is science-fiction. Sure, there are probably criticisms to be had. No book is perfect. But with Polaris Rising, Mihalik is reminding her readership that there are so many stories that have not been told and so many characters we have not been introduced to. The book starts off strong and trusts that Ada’s voice in enough to pull you in and hold your interest. I do not know exactly where Ada’s story will take us next, but I will eagerly await that new chapter.
Polaris Rising can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold
Total Read Time: 11 days
Next on the List: Doctor Who: Scratchman, by Tom Baker