James L. Cambias
Corsair Cover



I'm actually surprised at all middling ratings I've seen for Corsair, because I personally had a really good time with it. Maybe this is just one of those books that work better as an audiobook, the format I reviewed. I do seem to have much better luck listening to rather than reading science fiction novels that have a lot of technical jargon (an example I can think of is Andy Weir's The Martian, which I ended up loving) so that might be a factor.

Still, all the same I found Corsair and its story of hackers, pirates, and space travel to be a hell lot of fun and relentlessly addictive.

Because, come on. SPACE PIRATES.

Our story follows the lives of two former friends who first crossed paths at MIT in the early 2020s. Elizabeth has a penchant for all things related to technology and space travel, studying to pursue her dreams of one day joining the Air Force after graduation. David Schwartz on the other hand is a brilliant hacker, whose transgressions gradually escalate from harmless pranks to more serious crimes. Too different to remain together, the two of them eventually part ways.

Skip forward to ten years later. One has become a high level intelligence officer, monitoring the activity of shipments to and from the moon to prevent space piracy and theft of the precious Helium3 mined there. The other has made a name for himself too by adopting his new cyber alias of Captain Black, Space Pirate to hack into military and mining operations systems, resulting in billions lost from stolen cargo. Elizabeth and David are locked in a battle of wits, and though neither of them can be sure of the other's identity, both have their suspicions. Very soon, they will have their confrontation and ultimately might even end up on the same side again.

Fast, thrilling and entertaining, I've heard that Corsair is a lighter and more high-spirited offering from James L. Cambias compared to his previous work. This is my first book by him so I can't judge, but certainly there were several points in here, particularly in the dialogue, which made me laugh out loud. I don't know why, but I was surprised to see a bit of humor in this, and yet I can't deny these little spikes of levity worked very well especially when they relieved the pressure in very tense moments.

The characters' personalities also feel very genuine, and here perhaps the narrator deserves some kudos too. Victor Bevine injects the required charisma in his voice to bring them to life, making each person sound natural and like themselves. Elizabeth comes across as very straight-laced and technical, but easy to be around. David on the other hand is bombastic and bizarre, slightly tinged with that social awkwardness we've been led us to associate with genius. At the same time, the two of them are not static protagonists, even after both of them set off on their expected career paths. Ten years is a long time for people to change, and I love how Cambias decided to tackle Elizabeth and David's Criminal vs. Law Enforcer dynamic, which is definitely not typical. It's difficult to go into this without revealing more details and possible spoilers for the story, but suffice to say both character experience significant life changes that motivate them to see and do certain things differently than you'd expect, and the author makes it all sufficiently convincing.

Too much hard sci-fi generally turns me off so I was glad Corsairwasn't too heavy on these elements, and yet neither was the story a cheap, throwaway experience. Simply put, I found this book to be just the right balance of sophisticated science fiction mixed with healthy dose of campiness and full-on thrills. After some of the reviews I've seen for this, I had my reservations, but I ended up liking this more than I expected. I'd like to check out the author's other book now; even if it doesn't strike the same tone, I would be curious to see if The Darkling Sea will grab me the same way.