The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald
Tor; April 2007
Imagine the far reaches of outer space, where settlers fleeing the debasement of earth have established new-born civilizations on pristine earth-like planets. Imagine the giant fleet ships, carrying supplies and more settlers, sailing the mysterious Alcheringa between planets. Imagine a space navy, where long stretches of routine tasks alternate with sudden, violent attacks by separatist factions.
Step into the cosmos as visioned by Sandra McDonald, a bright new star in the constellation of Science Fiction writers. Australians discovered the shortcut between planets, and named their subsequent discoveries after places from their native country. Did the same aliens who made the Alcheringa visit earth in its distant past? What connection does the Dreamtime and a mysterious aboriginal vision have with alien artifacts - or with our heroine?
I read The Outback Stars for a second time this week, and enjoyed it again. This is military science fiction as I've never quite experienced it before - a combination of the most gritty and realistic life-aboard-a-ship, with the kind of happenings that make one pinch oneself to see if one is dreaming. The fantastic married to the ordinary, the normal juxtaposed with unexpected violence and destruction, all melded smoothly together with a creamy prose that carries one through without a ripple.
The best part of The Outback Stars is its utter believability. Perhaps McDonald traveled through a time-warp and brought back a detailed description of what she saw. More likely, she draws on her own experience in the military. However she created it, The Outback Stars is a keeper, about to be joined by book two in the series: The Stars Down Under, coming March 18, 2008 from Tor.
If you like the works of David Weber or Elizabeth Moon, Viehl's Stardoc series or John Scalzi's Ghost Brigades trilogy, I think you will want to experience the universe according to Sandra McDonald.