Sci-fi Novel Review: Refractions by M V Melcer

I loved M V Melcer’s 2021 short story “The Falling,” so it didn’t take too many positive reviews to convince me to shell out the four dollars for her new space opera: Refractions

Refractions is a story of sabotage in space, with a pilot fleeing her past thrust into an unfamiliar leadership role with no way to tell who to trust. It takes place in a world where China has become the dominant technological power, with an explicitly Christian United States trying their hardest to catch up. When an American colony in space goes suddenly silent, it’s the US who wants to mount a rescue mission, but they can’t do anything without Chinese engineers onboard. The lead’s Canadian citizenship makes her a natural choice to help keep the peace on a crew divided along national and religious lines, but keeping the peace—let alone mounting an effective rescue—gets harder and harder the longer the saboteur goes undiscovered.

Conceding to the demands of SEO, the author has subtitled Refractions  “A Completely Gripping Space Opera,” but the description honestly isn’t too far off. The crisis occurs up front, and the sense of urgency never abates as the novel moves forward—the saboteur could always strike again, and while keeping the crew from breaking out into civil war provides a pretty significant secondary objective, the story never loses focus on the primary goal. The drip of clues and suspicions comes steadily enough to keep the pace moving and the pages turning. The first half of the book does include some flashback chapters (labeled with negative numbers), but these deliver their own sense of urgency, and their relevance to the main plot becomes increasingly clear as time progresses. 

It is a book that wears its theme on its sleeve, with the narrative making no secret of the importance of international cooperation, or of the forces working for division. There are times this feels a little bit too overt, but on the whole, it’s a compelling message, and the book resists casting any one national or religious group as the obvious villains. 

And if there are some moments of heavy-handedness with the theme—moments, not long, uninterrupted stretches—they’re balanced by the excitement of the main plot, which keeps the tension high and delivers plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader engaged. In some ways, it’s what I hoped for in The Deep Sky, 2023’s other novel featuring sabotage on an international space mission with a crew struggling to trust each other and lead suddenly given more responsibility than she’d prepared for. Sabotage in space makes for a compelling story, as long as the prose keeps flowing and the lead doesn’t make immersion-breaking mistakes. And on that score, Refractions delivers. It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, and its themes of cooperation don’t go out of style. 

Recommended if you like: space sabotage, themes of cooperation across national or religious borders. 

Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Space Opera and is also Self-Published and contains Reference Materials. 

Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads. 


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