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Hunger Makes the Wolf

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

Imagine an action/adventure/science-fiction/fantasy/western hybrid, with hard-scrabble planetary pioneers battling an evil corporation intent on subjugating the population and establishing galactic hegemony. No, I'm not talking about Firefly, or Total Recall, or whatever else those descriptors brought to mind. I'm talking about Hunger Makes the Wolf, the debut novel by Alex Wells, geologist by profession, as well as writer and host of the podcast Skiffy & Fanty. It may remind you of other stories, it's nothing unique, but it makes up for it with exciting action and well-drawn characters in the midst of multiple life and death situations. A blurb from an early reader called it "Sons of Anarchy meets Dune." Hob Ravani is sort of like Jayne Cobb, except younger and female, maybe not as good with guns but proficient with knives, definitely smarter, with a sharply defined moral code. Another way to visualize her is to think of Leia Organa played straight-up like real life Carrie Fisher, fond of fucking, and not averse to saying fuck whenever she pleases.

Hob (not her real name, and I don't believe we learned what that was) is an orphan who jumped off a freight ship onto Tanegawa's World ten years earlier. She was taken under the wing of Nick Ravani, leader of the mercenary biker gang Ghost Wolves. What little law enforcement the planet has is devoted to protecting the corporate interests of TransRift and their mining and farming operations. The Wolves contract out to various towns and individuals to protect them from bandits and scavengers. Ravani is not even Nick's real last name, but rather a title handed down through generations by the leaders of the Wolves. Similarities to the Old West abound, and there's even a train job or two. TransRift not only owns the whole planet and all its resources, the mining and farming industries are operated like historic company towns, everyone employed by them and subject to their rules and regulations. On top of that, TransRift has a monopoly on the manufacture and operation of interstellar ships, which can only be flown by their genetically designed (maybe artificially created) Weathermen, the only ones capable of maneuvering through the 'rifts' of space. Many planets had been previously settled by members of generational starship crews, but TransRift then came in with their superior technology and exerted control.

I don't want to get into too many plot details, but for now I'll say I might rate this book higher if not for too many unanswered questions, most involving the more fantastical elements. From whence came the 'witchiness' of what Nick and Hob can do? Is it related in any way to the mental processes of the Weathermen? And the Bone Collector? Is he human, formerly human but altered by mysterious forces of the planet, or is he native to the planet? If the latter, are there others like him around? I'll give Mx. Wells the benefit of the doubt for now, at least until February, when their second novel, Blood Binds the Pack, is released. I'm looking forward to it, and not just to read more about Hob. Her childhood friend (and Nick's niece) Mags, is just as strong in her own way, sure to be a big part of the second book's plot. Then there's the mysterious operative Shige Rollins, purportedly a secretary to TransRift's top executive on the planet, but actually an agent (double, triple?) of the Federated Union of Worlds. Recommended. I expect to see this on the ballot for at least the Philip K. Dick Award next year, which is given to the best novel originally published in paperback.


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