Saltation proudly mentions that it is part of the Liaden Universe® series of novels. I haven’t read anything else set in the Liaden Universe®, but it is apparently a thing worth mentioning, with a loyal following. Also apparently (not that anything in Saltation mentions this), this particular book is a prequel – actually the second of two prequels. This explains but does not excuse some of the shortcomings of this fairly terrible book.
Saltation is the story of how Theo Waitley becomes an interstellar pilot. Theo is a fairly standard underdog character from a mixed and slightly eccentric background. The story opens with her having just left home to journey to the prestigious pilot school on another planet. Being a pilot is a serious business, pilots have fantastic responsibilities and need reflexes and skills that require years of training. So pilot school is basically a cross between Top-Gun and Hogwarts, run along military lines to weed out any slackers.
Sounds exciting doesn’t it? Wrong! I almost came to believe Saltation was a writing exercise designed to make the premise as boring as possible. It is like the authors wrote an exciting but flabby 700 page novel then their editor wisely cut out the boring chapters but accidentally sent the wrong stack of pages to the printer! Whole chapters are concerned with Theo sorting out her luggage. She meets and has long, inconsequential conversations with various minor characters who are never seen again.
It is not uncommon for scifi novels to devote some time to explaining the setting and the various bits of technology lying around. Saltation manages to spend a lot of time introducing devices that play no part in the plot, and then name drops various alien races and technologies without explanation.
All this is maybe forgivable, but Saltation has bigger problems. Theo Waitley is not an engaging lead character. She has no flaws to overcome, and suffers no particular hardships until late in the novel. It is mentioned several times that she is not well liked by the other students, but for good reason and I didn’t like her either. Theo is too perfect. It turns out she is a natural pilot, a natural fighter, a natural dancer, a natural athlete, as well as having an impossibly mysterious, handsome, and well connected older boyfriend, friends in high places, fantastic job offers and the ear of all the staff at the school.
It is as if the first Harry Potter book was called Hermione Granger and the Perfect Attendance Record. I don’t think I have ever read such a dull book.
In the closing chapters things finally start to happen and Theo gets kicked out of school for literally being too good. Of course she immediately gets perfect job as a pilot and things slowly start moving. But only at the very end does anything actually happen, and even that is just to set things up for the next book.
Maybe, maybe, maybe this all makes sense in the context of the other Liaden Universe® books. I certainly won’t be hunting down the rest of them to find out.