Title: The Icarus Hunt
Author: Timothy Zahn
Nutshell: Jordan McKell is a small-time smuggler for a crime lord. It’s not an ideal line of work, but it pays the bills. He’s between smuggling runs when he gets approached for a regular shipping job. Since he’s supposed to be an out-of-work shipper in between runs, he does what any good out-of-work cargo hauler does: he takes the job. He’ll explain it to the crime lord later.
The job does have a couple of oddities. First, the cargo is an entire ship, so he’ll have to fly it. Second, the ship is one of the ugliest, worst-designed ships in the galaxy. Third, he isn’t allowed to choose a crew. Besides his own partner, he has no say in the choice of crewmembers that are helping him. Fourth, there is something fishy going on. This small freight job might be a lot more like smuggling than he was planning. And fifth, one of the crewmembers is dead.
Read-alikes: Michael A. Stackpole’s science fiction is quite similar, as is Aaron Aliston’s. Avalon, by Mindee Arnett has many of the same features.
If you like table-turning twists and well-crafted capers, this is the book for you. This author is for you. Zahn writes some of the best heists, tricks, and traps I’ve ever read, and mixes it with well-crafted aliens: strange enough to be not-human but normal enough to make sense. His ability to tell stories with hive-mind consciousness isn’t featured in Icarus Hunt, but it’s really incredible.
This is not my favorite Zahn, but it’s the Zahn I own, and what I like about it is seeing each crewmember’s secrets revealed and putting together the big picture from them. Absolutely everybody has at least one secret directly relevant to the plot, which makes for a great mystery. Plus, they’re all stuck on a spaceship in the middle of the black, which gives the book a bit of a Murder on the Orient Express feel, just with more fisticuffs.
There’s not a lot that’s unique about the world for this book. It’s your basic FTL, multi-system sci-fi, with crime. (I suppose technically even Star Tek has crime, but it’s usually the… noble kind, I guess you would say. This is the gritty-day-to-day living crime, not the high, moralizing sort.) The world of the story is the ship. That, of course is fascinating. It’s a total hack job, with a sealed sphere in the center, and enough glitches to make the Millenium Falcon proud. Without the speed, manuvering, or homey charm of the Falcon.