Haz Taylor is down on his luck, and he's been there for a year now. He managed to get his heavily damaged ship to a backwater planet, but without the use of the vessel, he has no way to make money to pay for repairs. Hope for escape seems to come from the most unlikely quarter: His old commander from the Earth-based Coalition, who offers to cover the cost of fixing Haz's ship and hire back his old crew. The mission they want him to take seems simple enough. Transporting a religious artifact back to the planet it was stolen from. But when Haz meets the 'artifact,' everything changes.
“Potential Energy” is a pretty classic space opera with a decidedly queer bent. Haz is an antihero very much in the Han Solo mold, only a lot rougher and a lot gayer. After being drummed out of the military for leading a mutiny against a captain who was about to get his entire crew killed, he's made his living carrying questionable cargo for questionable beings from one planet to the other. Life has given him a very pessimistic personality, but he's too stubborn to die, until he meets Mot.
“Mot” is what they end up calling the ‘religious artifact’ they’re supposed to be transporting because what the priests who ‘made’ him called him was too much of a mouthful. Mot effectively had no life until he was kidnapped, and when Haz and his crew find out what his fate would be if returned, that's when the story gets really interesting. Mot is quite a unique invention. I can't think of a literary parallel to him, except perhaps for the old Athenian scapegoat tradition. Mot was a human infant raised to be nothing more than a symbol to be paraded around and displayed but never really interacted with. His transformation into an actual human with a distinct personality as well as a sexual preference is probably a little too fast to be entirely believable, but it works within the story quite well.
While the core of the story is the relationship that develops between Haz and Mot, there are other key characters that make this such a fun read. There is Haz’s crew, two women called Jaya and Njeri, who are married. They provide an interesting foil to Haz’s impulsiveness. Then there's the ship itself, Molly, whose AI develops a personality of its own through the story. Even the characters that only appear in one chapter are richly described such that we want to know more about them.
This is a stand-alone book, which is something of a rarity these days. While I appreciate the change of pace of not having to read a whole series, I would really look forward to reading more stories set in the universe this book has created.
“Potential Energy” is available from Amazon.