The Prodigal Sun - Sean Williams & Shane Dix
Ace, April 1999, pb, 393pp, $US6.99. Cover by Bob Warner.
Reviewed by Jonathan Strahan

In Australian circles this year it's a case of the new song, same as the old song. Earlier this year Andrew Whitmore recast his 1990 novel Fortress of Eternity as Fireflaught and Sean McMullen turned Voices in the Light and Mirrorsun Rising into Souls in the Great Machine. Now Sean Williams and Shane Dix take their 1995 space opera The Unknown Soldier and turn it into something both familiar and new, and definitely more accomplished, with The Prodigal Sun.

Williams and Dix's original novel was a military adventure romp set in the proprietary gaming universe of the Cogal. The first in an intended trilogy, it told of the adventures of a fairly typical cast of heroes at some time in the distant future. In The Prodigal Sun the heroes remain, but all traces of the failed Cogal game are gone. The novel opens aboard the Confederation of Empires spacefrigate Midnight. Morgan Roche has been assigned the task of delivering an artificial intelligence to its intended destination and overseeing its installation. It's an uninspiring task, but when the Midnight picks up a small manned capsule in deep space things become more interesting. The capsule contains a man in suspended animation who, on waking, can provide little information about himself, though it's obvious he comes from a military background. Roche also notices something unusual about the AI, but before she has had the opportunity to work out exactly what, the Midnight is attacked and Roche, the unknown soldier, a telepath, a businessman, and the AI are forced to flee the exploding frigate only to land on a nearby prison planet where they meet up with local rebels, and are chased across the planetary surface by an opposing interstellar force intent on capturing both Roche and the supercomputer.

Like a lot of space opera, the story here is far from new. However, Williams and Dix effectively sidestep the problem providing a very satisfying classic Golden Age-style yarn. The novel is entertaining, enjoyable and sets the stage solidly for the forthcoming books in the series. One of the most satisfying aspects of The Prodigal Sun is that the authors have delivered a work which is superior in every way to the earlier novel, and that at long last readers will get to see what happens next. The Prodigal Sun will reward readers unfamiliar with Williams and Dix's earlier work, but also is strongly recommended for admirers of The Unknown Soldier.

©1999 Jonathan Strahan.
This review originally appeared in Locus.