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The Dark Wing series

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue.

The Dark Wing. Walter H. Hunt
Original Publication: 2001 (Tor Books)
Current Availability: E-Book (Baen Books)

The Dark Path. Walter H. Hunt
Original Publication: 2003 (Tor Books)
Current Availability: E-Book (Baen Books)

The Dark Ascent. Walter H. Hunt
Original Publication: 2004 (Tor Books)
Current Availability: E-Book (Baen Books)

The Dark Crusade. Walter H. Hunt
Original Publication: 2005 (Tor Books)
Current Availability: E-Book (Baen Books)

Shannon Appelcline established a useful goal in his series of reviews that have previously appeared in this section of Critics’ Corner. However, there are only a limited number of books that truly have the sort of direct connection to Traveller that Shannon used in choosing which books to review. I felt that there were more than a few stories that, while having no discernable direct connection with Traveller, nevertheless felt—at least to me—like they could happen in a Traveller universe, even if not the Official one. The Dark Wing series is a set of books that meet my criteria.

The story arcs here are complex enough to make it difficult to summarize in a review. The first book, The Dark Wing, covers a war between the Solar Empire and the avian Zor, looking at it from both the human and Zor views, and ending with the court martial and exile of the Imperial Admiral who won the war, in a way that was unpalatable to the Empire. The remaining three books cover a subsequent war between the Solar Empire (now including the Zor as a client) and an insectoid species called “Vuhl”. This part of the story feels incomplete; while the war between the Empire and the Vuhl ends, it feels like Hunt invokes a deus ex machina to forcibly separate the combatants, without actually resolving the ‘political’ arcs on both sides. There are clues throughout to suggest that both wars were the result of manipulation, and Zor mythology/history/religion (the Zor seem to not distinguish the three) also plays a major role in events, enough so that the Zor mythology thread and the ‘secular’ war thread are braided together, not really separate.

The complexity, however, is only in the analysis; the reader can easily be ‘caught up’ in the telling, and – like with many good books I’ve read – miss one’s stop on a bus or train, if not travelling to the end of the line.

Throughout the series, we get to see both the human and Zor view of events, and in some ways, the two views sometimes seem to be looking at different and unrelated events. Nevertheless, Mr Hunt has written well, and while complete predictability will elude the reader, as the parallel tracks evolve, the reader will start to see the shape of Mr Hunt’s story.

There is some interesting world-building in this book, though not quite as complete a job as that of the authors of the Jao Empire books. We see the Zor interpretation of Solar Empire – which is to say, human – actions within the contextual framework of Zor legend/theology/history, and we also get to see some of the human interpretations of Zor myths. All four book titles are actually taken from the created Zor mythology, though The Dark Path and The Dark Crusade can carry meaning from strictly human history (and activity in the story arc) as well.

What the Traveller fan would call psionics plays a large role in the story arc, though Mr Hunt’s model isn’t really compatible with the Traveller-standard model. We see forms of telepathy and psionic assault, but even those operate differently from the Traveller model, and one might easily call some aspects outright magic, including the specificity of what appears to be Zor racial memory or collective unconscious and the way certain humans appear to be able to interact with it.

If there can be said to be major flaws in the story, they would be tied to the way that Mr Hunt seems to leave the story unfinished, and the way that psionics – which Mr Hunt refers to as “Sensitive talents” – work for both Zor and human. Beyond that, though, we get glimpses of a universe that really isn’t all that far away from a ‘stock’ Traveller universe; there’s a frontier, tramp traders, glimpses of aliens (other than the Zor), and the opportunity to get into trouble that comes when you mix those with player-characters.

If you’ve got $20 to spare, go to Baen and get the ebooks.