Adventures with self-published books
It’s the first human voyage outside the solar system, and Proxima Centauri is the destination. The crew of the sleeper ship Deep Space discovers we are not alone, and not everyone out there is nice.
Diverted to Alpha Centauri A (Rigel Kentaurus) to fetch and return a faster-than-light prototype, the crew learns that humanity is the only civilization to ever solve the light barrier problem.
Now, Deep Space must defend it as a military secret, because the mysterious Betels have been at war with the brutal Thrace since before mankind discovered fire–all with sublight space travel.
Let me preface this review by saying that it probably says more about me than about the book. There is a big elephant-caveat in the room: I did not grow up reading the Science Fiction classics. They were not available to me when I was the age that many of my generation got into SF reading, I did not read any fiction during a huge hiatus, and have since not bothered catching up on the E.E. Smiths, E.R. Burroughs and the like. I’ve read limited Asimov (liked it), Heinlein (hated some, liked others) and a smattering of other classics, but many do not appeal to me, because, reading them now as adult, I find many not only badly-dated, but very limited in scope (i.e. white-US-male-centric) and often denigrating to women. And ZOMG the clichés! I am sure that they were not clichés when those books were first published–often many years before I was born–but they are clichés now.
That is where I come from.
Which brings us to this book, which one could say harkens back to the classics, except I can’t say it, because haven’t read a lot of classics. But to me, it has that good ol’ space opera feel.
Except it’s tossed out the bad bits of the classics (dated technology, misogyny and imperialism) and kept the good (action, aliens and space ships, what more do you want?)
Without giving away too much of the plot, the book covers the first human interstellar mission. They find alien creatures, some hostile, some peaceful, some have been looking for the maker of a human probe that arrived in the system many years ago. Humans have technology that the hostile aliens want, and those aliens are strong enough to overwhelm the tiny human mission.
Similar to The Mote In God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle–a book I’ve read recently and the scope of which is similar–this story is told from an alien and a human POV. As writer, I hate writing in dual POV, and as reader, I often feel that it’s a cop-out in order to beef up the book’s word count. I get disinterested at POV breaks. But, the alternating POV chapters in this book work really well. Often, I also find that multi-POV deflates tension, because the reader already knows what the villain is thinking. Unknown = tension. It’s like going to have a minor operation: you always feel so much worse prior, even while the pain happens afterwards. In this book, the alternating POV actually increases tension.
The action moves at a fast clip. The prose is clean and effective. The story is entertaining.
On the minus side, I have to mention a few small-ish things.
It’s an action novel. The prose moves fast. There are no huge long internal deliberations in which the characters ponder their fate. But there are no huge long internal deliberations in which we learn an awful lot about the characters. Not entirely true. We actually learn a fair bit about the alien POV character, but next to nothing about the human POV. Then again, I doubt anyone picks up a space opera novel in order to read deep character stuff.
I had a few minor believability issues. For all that this is the first interstellar expedition, I felt the crew treated it like a Sunday picnic a bit too often. I did not feel that the expedition as described was well-planned. Then there is the duct-tape incident. Up until that point, the novel had been making a reasonably serious stab at the harder side of space opera, and this incident was clearly meant to be funny. Except funny didn’t fit the rest of the tone, which had been fairly scientifically balanced.
I just do not, for one moment, believe that you can fix a hole in a pressure suit with duct tape, for realz. Duct tape is actually pretty lousy at sticking to stuff in environments for which it is not designed. It would not stick at that temperature (much like it also doesn’t stick well in extreme heat, or under water–you want library tape for the latter). It would not stick under vacuum pressure. The incident is slapstick humour that doesn’t suit the tone of the rest of the book.
Also, clichés. Was the archetypal Seer-type, prophetic dying alien really necessary? And why do authors keep insisting on using translator boxes? A novel would be much more interesting if some word-space was devoted to trying to understand each other, rather than switching on a device which produces instant and perfect English (why always English, by the way?)
Overall, fast, action-packed, very readable, well-formatted, enjoyable story.