A copy of 13 Worlds was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Despite only being a 102-page novella, 13 Worlds wears a lot of different hats. There are a lot of references to other works in here. Author J. J. Hair’s biography lists several other works he is a fan of, and it shows. I caught the Ender’s Game reference pretty quickly, among other things, but there were probably other references I did not even pick up on. There are also a lot of real-world allusions, the most memorable one being a planet with pretty much the whole population in quarantine because of a virus. Art imitates life, I guess.
Now, 13 Worlds does jump around a little bit. Assuming you have read the synopsis, you have a basic idea of the plot. The story goes back and forth between the crew of the planet-killer ship and people on the worlds marked for destruction. The idea being that they are knocking off civilizations on the verge of becoming a threat. Getting some Stargate SG-1 flashbacks off that.
The ideas here were great, but it was a little bit confusing in practice. With multiple settings involved, it’s not always clear where a chapter takes place. And it seemed like these different planets were unaware of each other, but they all used very similar naming conventions. For most of the book, I was not 100% sure whether these planets were in the same universe or if the spaceship was hopping between dimensions/realities. That does eventually get cleared up, but it happens pretty close to the end. And everything that happens along the way feels a little bit…incomplete.
By the end of the novella, 13 Worlds felt more like a pilot episode than a standalone story. There is clearly more going on here and, as a reader, I want to know what those things are. Some major events had to lead to what’s happening here. And the current events are just as clearly going to lead to even bigger things.
Another thing that stuck out to me was the world-building and character development. For a short novella rather than a novel with 4x the page count, the world and characters are fairly well developed. But it seems like this is a tiny bit of a much bigger universe J. J. Hair has created. One with a bigger story than what we see here. It feels like this is just the skeleton and could be a lot more once there is some meat on those bones.