Igniting the Reaches (1994) is the SF first novel in the Privateer series. In the far future, humans have spread throughout a great volume of space. But then came the Collapse and mankind lost contact with the farthest worlds. Now mankind is beginning a new age of expansion into the galaxy, re-discovering lost worlds, races and treasures. The Feds and Southerns are becoming rich from new colonies and trading posts among the stars and other nations have sent out trading ships to gain some of these riches.
In this novel, the Venusian settlers have funded a voyage of trade and exploration. The Sultan is a privately armed ship commanded by Captain Choransky. The flotilla also includes the Preakness and the Dove. Stephen Gregg is aboard the Sultan as supercargo, representing his uncle, Gregg of Weyston. Their first port-of-call is Salute ... at least, they think it is Salute.
Piet Recimer, an officer and former shipowner, takes down a crew in the cutter to investigate and finds two Southern Cross ships on the ground, so the flotilla is brought down near the spaceport. Trucks are offloaded from the ships, filled with armed men, and rushed down to the port. There they find that everybody has run away, except for one man who apparently slept through the evacuation.
Loading 98 Molts, an alien race that moved into human space after the collapse, on their ships, the Venusians take off for Virginia (or somewhere near it) to sell their cargo. There they run into a bit of shooting with the North American Federation colony.
This novel is based on the voyages of Francis Drake (and some of his contemporaries). It has the same emphasis on God and Country, the same makeshift technology of shipbuilding, navigation and weaponry, and the same ignorance and cruelty found in the originals. It also reflects the casual attitudes of the Elizabethan era toward slavery. Some of the parallels are rather strained, but the focus of the story is the men themselves, bringing to life the excitement and confusion that resulted from mankind expanding into a mostly unknown frontier.
Recommended for Drake fans and anyone else who enjoys tales of long voyages to strange lands.
-Arthur W. Jordin