I’ll end this series of posts with some of my favorite pirates — space pirates. Science fiction has a marvelous subgenre known as space opera. The name comes from both soap operas and also from horse opera, which was a nickname for westerns. But for me, what space opera most resembles are nautical adventure stories. Most of the time the action takes place in and around spaceships, with the nomenclature and hierarchies of naval life that haven’t particularly changed from the 17th century. And like any good shipbound adventure, sometimes you’re gonna get pirates. In some of the “space navy” series the pirates are a traditional foe that the naval forces are trying to control. Sometimes the pirate forces are more like mercenaries that have crossed a line. As tempting as it was to include mercenaries (especially my favorites, The Dendarii Free Mercenaries from Bujold’s Vorkosigan books) I wanted to stick to those operating truly outside the rules. So as your last homework for Talk Like a Pirate Day, here are some science fiction pirates.
Lt Leary, Commanding by David Drake
This is the second book of Drake’s series about the Republic of Cinnabar Navy (RCN), and features the duo of naval officer Daniel Leary and librarian and spy Adele Mundy (gotta love a librarian in space!). The plot has Leary fighting the clueless Navy brass, transporting a political exile who tries to commandeer their ship, and a battling with the Alliance, only to turn to a band of pirates for help. Very Aubrey/Maturin with its lead duo, this series is a lot of fun.
Igniting the Reaches by David Drake
The Prolific Drake has another series that has good pirate action, set in our solar system after the collapse of the former human space empire. Piet Ricimer and Stephen Gregg are two Venusians trying to beat their rivals to the advanced technology salvage still out there on former empire worlds in the far reaches of space. And the rivalry can get pretty hot, hostile ships from the Earth Federation, hybrid humans, and aliens species all racing for the same riches. Lots of action, of a swashbuckling sort.
Sassinak by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon
Sassinak was a child when her family was killed by pirates who attacked her colony. She is sold as a slave, but her friendship with a former Fleet crewman gives her the skills that allow her to escape and become the scourge of pirates everywhere. I loved this when I read it when it came out, and while I doubt it holds up as well as my memories, McCaffrey is always enjoyable. This is the first of a loose series called the Planet Pirates.
Redoubtable by Mike Shepherd
The Kris Longknife series (of which this is the 8th entry) often features high adventure in a universe full of raiders and pirates, but here the pirate trouble gets personal. Kris and her crew have been sent on a tour to catch pirates operating on the Rim when a kidnapped girl leads them to a pirate compound run by former employees of the same company that pays Kris. Machiavellian corporate politics and pirate actions sounds like a fun mix. I haven’t read these, but they look like a sure bet for military SF fans.
The Real Story: The Gap into Conflict by Stephen R. Donaldson
As this series starts, Morn Hyland is an ensign with the United Mining Companies Police on her first mission. She immediately squares off against pirate Angus Thermopyle, as she witnesses him slaughtering a mining colony. In their first battle, Angus captures Morn and places an implant in her brain in an effort ro control her. But things get complicated. And even darker. This is a pretty twisty series where you only think you know who is the hero and who is the villain.
Merchanter’s Luck by C. J. Cherryh
Part of Cherryh’s Alliance/Union universe (after the more famous Downbelow Station), Sandor Kreja lost everything except his ship after pirates killed his family. He meets Allison Reilly in a bar on a space station and falls for her hard after a one night stand. When she leaves with her family’s ship, he follows her halfway across the galaxy only to drop into a conflict with the Alliance. Cherryh is a marvel and I’m about due for a re-read of this whole series.
Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon
The Vatta’s War series of military SF are another good bet for nautical fiction buffs. Ky Vatta is the scion of a powerful trading family who fails out of the Spaceforce Academy and has to go work for her family. Stranded in the Sabine system with an engine malfunction, Ky gets caught up in what first looks like a conflict between the two planets of the system, but soon gets complicated by pirate attacks. Quite a few of the other entries of the series feature pirates as well.
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
OK, pirates don’t have a huge role here, but the Culture books are so fantastic. And there ARE pirates. The Culture (a post-scarcity human society) are at war with the Idiran Empire and Bora Horza Gobuchul is sent to retrieve a Culture Mind (an AI entity) who is hiding on Schar’s World. On the way to retrieve the Mind, he encounters and joins up with a band of pirates. It’s a narrative detour, but a fun one! This is not my favorite Culture novel but it does give a reader a good idea of whether they will like Banks. And it’s the only one with pirates.
Honor Among Enemies by David Weber
The Honor Harrington series is one of the most popular of all space opera for good reason. It has a very Hornblower vibe, as Honor works her way up through the ranks of the Royal Manticore Navy. In the 6th of the series, Honor gets a chance to regain her career after a scandal drives her into exile. She is asked to take care of the pirates that are destroying commerce in the sector but first will have to find a way to pull together her ragged crew. Bonus: Honor has a telepathic treecat named Nimitz.
BONUS Steampunk Pirates
Falling as it does as a subgenre of Science fiction, I couldn’t leave out the steampunk pirates. Set in the past, with a fascination with airships and gadgets, steampunk is a natural medium for a good pirate story. Here are just a couple:
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
I wrote about this marvelous series on the blog already, so I’ll simply say that the crew of the airship Ketty Jay are some of my favorite not-terribly-successful pirates. In this first book of the series, Darien Frey has signed on for a piracy job that is far too big for his crew, but he can’t resist the payday. When things go south, he has to deal with a whole fleet of pirates as well as bounty hunter, government forces and the secrets of his own crew.
Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna
In a combo of steampunk and zombie horror, Ben Gold is a scavenger in a world where a disease has turned most of the population into zombie-like ferals and the only safe place is the skies. He owns an airship that he’s been using to help a group of scientists scavenge for tools to cure the feral sickness, but when pirates attack the scientist’s base he’ll have to decide if he’s willing to fight for anyone other than himself.
Check out the other Pirate Week posts: