The Xenocide Mission
By Ben Jeapers
David Fickling Books, 2002
The Xenocide Mission is a science fiction novel in the traditional space opera form. It is decidedly reminiscent of classic SF of the 60s and 70s, although it is also significantly better written than many classics from that time.
The year is 2153, and the human race has taken to the stars, albeit with significant help from an artificially created alien race commonly called the 'Rusties' (which they hate. They prefer the name 'First Breed'). The dying creators of the Rusty breed gifted them to the humans with the condition that the humans upkeep the remains of their empire -- such as it is. One of the requirements is that the Human/Rusty Commonwealth keep watch on a violent alien race, the XCs. The XCs (Xenocides) are so called because their first act as a space-faring race was to ruthlessly exterminate all life on their sister planet.
Lieutenant Joel Gilmore is working on a clandestine spy station in the XC system when it suddenly becomes apparent that the station is not as clandestine as they had hoped. The XCs come in with guns blazing, quickly depressurizing the station and killing most of the station's occupants in a matter of moments. Joel, who had been working on some external repairs when the attack came, survives... but then is left by the lifeboat when he runs back into the station to destroy sensitive information in the computer banks.
Joel finds himself captured, along with one Rusty crew-mate, and held for uncertain purposes. Well, uncertain to him. The story alternates between the human's viewpoint and the XCs, and we quickly learn that the situation is much more complicated than the humans realize, and not all XCs are bad guys.
This is a fairly standard space opera, with ships and space marines and noble captains and valiant underlings. It's hardly hard science fiction, as it is filled with Faster Than Light travel and gravity fields, but Ben Jeapers does add in enough bits about astronomy and basic physics (and basic logic) to give the novel a good sciency feeling. The aliens are fairly well thought out and well written, and the plot is pleasingly twisty. Perhaps my biggest critique would be the number of astounding coincidences that have to happen to get the final cast assembled, but quite frankly, it's not hard to read past that and enjoy the story, making it a minor boggle in the long run.
This is not really my sort of story, but it is fairly well-written and moves along nicely. And despite not being my sort of story, I did enjoy it, which says something. I think that it is probably comparable in general tone and writing style to David Weber's books, although just a bit less carefully crafted. Overall, a good read, but not a book that will stand out even in its particular sub-genre.