Skirmish (1985) is the first novel in the Skyrider series. Melacha Rendell, the Skyrider, is a Belter shuttle pilot with family on Earth and Mars. She sat out the Colonial Incident -- which the Colonials called a war -- and has felt guilty ever since. She also feels guilty over the loss of her boyfriend, Djano, in her shuttle when an blocked airfilter blew a vent with overpressure. To overcompensate, she plays her role as a swashbuckling mercenary with some desperation. She is a Floater, with one Grounder gene and one Faller gene; thus, she is equally at home in gravity or freefall.
In this novel, she is cut off in a landing on the flight deck of Main Base and goes looking for the pilot to rearrange his face. After one good punch, she notes that the pilot, Jamin, is a Faller and refrains from further blows. She soon realizes that he hides his gravity pains and so looks much more arrogant than he really is. Strangely enough, Jamin has an adopted son, Collis, who is a Grounder; he not only has the normal Grounder problems with freefall, but also has some kind of inner ear problem that goes straight his stomach whenever he is not in gravity. Therefore, Jamin spends most of his time at Main Base in the artificial gravity section ... and in pain. Although Skyrider doesn't care much for Jamin at first, she likes Collis immediately. Soon the two become her best friends and, although she doesn't admit it even to herself, she begins to think of both of them as family.
Even thought the Colonials have lost the war, some progress has been made in Earth-Mars relationships, but the Belt hasn't gained much if anything. Another war has been brewing for some time and now a spaceliner, the Marabou, has been sabotaged, supposedly by Colonial Insurrectionist. The engines have been damaged, all pilots have been killed, and the ship is headed sunward. A Space Patrol ship has tried to dock with repair parts and another pilot, but muffed the approach, killing the rescue crew. Since Skyrider is the best pilot in the Belt, the Company wants Skyrider to make the rescue and are willing to give her a Falcon shuttle and free maintenance for the attempt. She agrees and takes Jamin along to pilot the liner.
However, someone doesn't want them to succeed and arranges several small acts of sabotage directed against Jamin and herself and also murders his babysitter. Skyrider begins to suspect that something not so obvious is going on.
This novel is not great literature nor even great science fiction. However, it is a fun read, with a fairly believable heroine who has a horror of appearing altruistic. A real tough guy who buys teddy bears for her relatives, but don't tell anyone or it will ruin the image. An entertaining story that will make you forget your troubles as you read about hers.
Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys space adventure tales with tough guy heroines who are suckers for cute, blue-eyed, six year old kids.
-Arthur W. Jordin