"Why does everyone think there's going to be trouble?"
Captain Grif Vindh and the crew of the Fool's Errand have just pulled off the heist of the decade. They've stolen some incredibly valuable medicine belonging to a top secret facility. Upside: they're all very rich now. Downside: they've pissed off an entire empire of religious fanatics.
For a while it looks like the crew will be a victim of its own success. Their gunner announces his plans to part ways: he has his eye on his own ship.
But the Alliance has caught wind of their epic heist against their enemies, the Radiant Throne. They need something else stolen from the Radiant Throne, a thingy that happens to be located at Ur Voys. You know, the aforementioned top-secret facility? Who better to break in than the people who already broke in once?
By appealing to Captain Vindh's patriotism---and when that fails, freezing his accounts and threatening to haul him off to jail---they recruit the crew for an encore heist. The only problem: Grif has no idea how he's going to break into Ur Voys.
This book has outstanding "production values", with delightful cover art, solid writing and editing, and no noticeable formatting issues (on my Kindle, at least). It's very well edited. I'll admit, I did notice a few subtle editing issues, but only because my brain is stuck on permanent editor mode.
But let's talk about the story itself.
Wright has done a great job with his worldbuilding. He sets his story in a complex, dangerous political climate without overwhelming the reader with history lessons or noun salad.
His characters may be a little stereotyped. You've got the tough and embittered captain who isn't afraid to run afoul of the Law or booze his way into a coma. There's the sardonic Amazon warrior woman as first mate. You'll of course have a big, violence-prone gun nut as weapons officer. And if you're going to have a chief engineer, of course he's going to be a three meter-long space mantis with a gambling problem and an exoskeleton that doubles as a spacesuit. So there's no real innovation in the cast of characters.
But put them all together, and something surprising happens: the banter flies, the characters become interesting and likable, their backstories deepen. You can tell they've been through some close calls together, that they've bonded. A lot of the reviews draw favorable comparisons to Firefly, and it's no wonder. Watching them prod each other is hilarious and a little heartwarming.
Another strong feature of the book: there is a savviness to his handling of science and technology, which comes as both a surprise and a relief.
At one point, Grif and two other crew members need to "hack a system" to get a message back to the ship. Most books, this would lead to a technobabbly, 24-style montage of typing and glaring at the screen. "Chloe! He's encrypted his IP! You have to crack it before those packets make it to the DCHP server in Russia!" "Jack, this is the most sophisticated ciphertext virus I've ever seen. It'll take days just to parse through all these RSS feeds... oh wait, I just cracked it by being awesome!"
That stuff bothers the hell out of me. In most "hacking" scenes, the author only vaguely explains the problem, then presents its resolution with maximum dramatics and minimum specifics. The author/reader relationship becomes akin to making babytalk noises at an infant: the words aren't supposed to make sense, because the entire meaning is carried by the tone.
But Wright handles it masterfully. The scene is tense, the stakes are high, and yet by the end I felt like I knew what the hell had happened, why it had been so tricky, and how they'd managed to pull it off.
I can't tell you how seldom this happens in fiction. But this is just one of a laundry list of problems and solutions, try-fail cycles, etc., that occur throughout Pay Me, Bug!, and each time the characters solve their problems in clever, plausible ways.
Also, we learn that writing a 3D, zero-G, multicombatant fight scene is really, really hard. I don't think that particular scene works in the end, but I want to give him a sixth star just for making the attempt.