Science Fiction Story Review

Arcturus 5

by D. L. Dunbar
Series: Twenty Sectors
Reviewed date: 2022 Dec 8
42 pages
cover art

Twenty Sectors
This short story is a prologue to Dunbar's Twenty Sectors series. I read it because I'm undertaking a project to read every science fiction story with Arcturus in the title. I found this story to be well-written, but perhaps there was a little too much exposition dumped in, and not enough storytelling. The story felt to me like an opening scene, not a complete story--which makes sense considering it's a prologue to a series. So for what it is, it's a fine story.

Plot with spoilers
Two alien races named the Mol and the Dark are disputing about access to trade routes, so Xella and her sister Pey are dispatched to the planet Arcturus 5 to arbitrate the dispute. Interestingly, there are no humans or humanoids in this story. Xella and Pey are Graha-Es (whatever that means) and the Mol and the Dark are decidedly not humanoid. We get a little glimpse into what the Graha-Es are like: they have six limbs, their females--called Tovenaressa--are diplomats and ambassadors and managers and engineers, while their males--called Mezadu--are fighters. I'm sure there's more nuance to it, but that's what's revealed in this story.

Of course the negotiations go poorly. The Dark pretend to be peaceful traders and scavengers, but really they are pirates who seize anything in space that isn't sufficiently protected. The Mol are hiding something.

It turns out the Mol were hiding the fact that their outpost on Arcturus 5 was really an illegal Detrium mining operation, and as Detrium is a powerful and highly unstable explosive, their warehouse full of Detrium explodes. The whole station--the whole planet even--is about to be destroyed.

Xella and Pey barely escape, with help from an unexpected quarter: the Dark. They may be disreputable pirates, but rescuing two Graha-Es arbitrators is sure to raise their standing with the Graha-Es.

This is unfair, but I didn't like the name Detrium for the explosive. It's too close to deuterium, which is confusing. The -ium ending suggests Detrium is a chemical element, but Detrium is capitalized while the names of elements are not, which suggests it's something else. It's an unfair criticism because the specifics of Detrium are not important to the plot. But I figure one of the perks of having my own website is that it entitles me to be a grumpy old man on the internet from time to time. So there.

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