It’s been six years since the colonists of Donovan, the farthest known planet capable of supporting human life, have had contact with the Corporation. A business and nation state in one, the Corporation was supposed to send frequent ships full of supplies and medicine to the colonists, as well as act as a guaranteed way back home.
Abandoned on a planet where nearly everything is poisonous and almost every alien life-form is capable of inflicting sudden, often very painful death, the colonists mutiny against their controlling overseer, set up their own governments and do their best to survive. W. Michael Gear’s Outpost begins when a Corporation ship, the Turalon, arrives armed and ready to take control of the planet and its people.
The Corporation has actually been sending ships to Donovan steadily over the years—but none have returned or even shown up in the planet’s atmosphere, and no one knows why. And when another, older Corporation ship suddenly appears in the planet’s atmosphere, everyone on it has been dead for decades. Supervisor Kalico Aguila, the woman in charge of the Turalon, nearly tips into an Ayn Rand parody at the beginning of Outpost, but her increasingly panicked anxiety over what might befall her if she leaves the planet is empathetically and effectively portrayed.
A violent confrontation seems inevitable, but Gear takes a character-driven, organic approach to the plot, deriving a level of humor that is surprising for a book with a statue of human bones on its cover. The Donovan colonists have gone various shades of native—most are clad in the scaly rainbow skin of quetzals, the large and vicious lizards that rule the bush outside their heavily guarded settlement. Aguila expects to be met with deference and fear, but her high heels sink in the mud, and the colonists call her combat-ready Marines “soft meat.”
Despite how extremely, almost hilariously dangerous the planet is, Gear’s knack for human detail and vivid depictions of the rugged natural beauty of his world make the death trap of a planet appealing. A large section of the novel is from the point of view of the Marines’ leader, Max “Cap” Taggart, as he explores the wilderness of Donovan alongside colonist leader Talina Perez. Taggart’s delight at the freedom and purity of life on the alien planet—and his unquestioned respect for the stalwart Talina—makes him a far more appealing and complex figure than the cynical grunt he first appears to be.
Nearly every character in Outpost has hidden depths and hidden sorrows, from Talina’s odd connection to the savage quetzals to the philosophical underpinnings behind her fellow leader Shig’s sangfroid. Gear’s novel at times reads more like an introduction than a properly formed novel, but with a world so rich, with so many characters to fascinate, it’s still an excellent start to an intriguing new sci-fi series.