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New Book Release – Troubled Space

Troubled Space ~ The Interstellar Adventures of an Unknown Indie Writer

After a prolonged delay to allow editors and agents to properly ignore the manuscript, the first ebook and paperback editions of this lighthearted space opera will be released on Friday, 15 May, 2020.

TS ebook cover 2020aTed Lester writes stories no one reads. Agents reject him. Editors ignore him. Frustrated, he self-publishes, hoping the world will find value in his books. Then, early one morning, as he is yet again attempting to compose prose that might attract the attention of…well, anyone, something remarkable happens. He gets an unexpected visit from an agent, but not one he has ever queried. This agent is from outer space, and it tells Ted that one of his books has become popular throughout the galaxy, and that he, as the author, can have everything he ever wanted: fame, fortune, and above all, fans. All Ted has to do is agree to go on an interstellar book tour.

Unfortunately, not all his galactic readers are admirers. Some want to kill him.

 

Digital editions are now available for preorder for only 99¢:
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1019006
Amazon (U.S.) Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B087X6PS16/

Book Review – Farside by Ben Bova

FarsideTitle: Farside
Author: Ben Bova
Publisher: Tor
First Published:
2013
Genre:
Science Fiction

A blind astronomer in charge of an observatory being built on the far side of the moon sacrifices safety in his obsession for winning a Nobel Prize.

A highly competent engineer falsely convicted of negligent homicide on Earth tries to redeem himself on the moon by taking performance-enhancing drugs.

A beautiful woman seeks revenge for a broken heart, heedless of the collateral damage she may cause.

These are just a few of the flawed characters populating Farside.

In some ways, this book feels like a 1950s detective novel—but without the detective. The characters and prose seem more suited to that genre than a modern space opera. When, in the first chapter, a young post-doc reflects on what a hunk the guy sitting near her on the rocket ship is, I began to regard it as such rather than as serious science fiction. If you look at it this way, this is a fine story. There is intrigue, mystery, believable characters with understandable (although often juvenile) motivations… Unfortunately, none of these things fit well in this setting.

The observatory station feels like a regular office complex (but with airlocks). The characters seem like average people.

And that’s the problem. This isn’t most places. It’s an observatory being built on the moon. It includes the largest interferometer ever constructed, which is intended to make observations of what may be the first truly earthlike planet ever discovered, and which all known laws of astrophysics say should not exist in orbit around Sirius. In other words, it’s an important place from a scientific standpoint. One would expect that only the best and the brightest would be working there. The characters in this book are clearly not that exceptional.

This is still an engaging story. The characters, although not well suited to this setting, would be believable in others. They may not be exactly likeable, but each has some attributes most of us can identify with. But there is no ‘sense of wonder’ you get from the best science fiction.

This book may be intended to set the scene for Bova’s next novel in his Grand Tour series, New Earth, in which a human expedition is sent to the mystery planet orbiting Sirius. I’ll probably read it.

It’s not great science fiction, but I can recommend Farside to readers looking for a serviceable story about ambition, revenge, and redemption with a bit of space science thrown in.

Book Review – Star Soldiers by Andre Norton

StarSoldiersTitle: Star Soldiers
Author: Andre Norton
Publisher: Baen
First Published:
Baen Edition – 2001
Genre:
Science Fiction/Fantasy (Space Opera)

I read several Andre Norton books when I was a kid. She wrote well over a hundred, mostly pulp space operas that were just what kids in the ‘space age’ wanted. Her tales of human space exploration, discovering other worlds, and meeting with strange aliens were simple but inspirational. We expected such tales to become a reality in the Twenty-First Century. Alas, things did not turn out so.

This Baen edition contains two of her earlier works: Star Guard (1955) and Star Rangers (1953).

Star Guard follows a platoon of “Archs,” human soldiers who serve as mercenaries in low-tech conflicts. They are hired to serve in a “police action” on a distant planet, which turns out to be much different than they expected, and they uncover secrets about humanity’s relationship with other galactic species and about human expansion to other worlds.

In Star Rangers (AKA The Last Planet), the multi-planet human empire is declining. Earth (Terra) is just a legend, its location forgotten. One of the last remaining Stellar Patrol ships crash lands on an unknown planet, and the survivors discover other castaways and the remnants of a lost civilization.

Although both stories were written over half a century ago, they stand up well. Some of the ‘high tech’ might seem antiquated to us now, but the characters remain believable and their adventures are still captivating (although serendipitous events do stretch one’s ability to suspend disbelief at times). With just a little rewriting, these would equal or surpass most of the popular science fiction adventure stories being published today.

What I tend to like about Norton’s books is that they often focus more on discovery than conflict, and they provide hopeful endings. These two stories do. Yes, things are bad, but there is hope for the future, and people can go on to do great things.

This is how many of us felt about the real world when these were written. The threat of nuclear annihilation hung over us, pollution clouded the skies of major cities, and there were fears of overpopulation and exhausting natural resources, but somehow we expected we’d overcome these challenges and go to the stars. Maybe we still will.

This free Baen edition for Kindle has some pretty sloppy editing, though. Both books have formatting issues and I noticed about half a dozen typos. There are so many well-written and well-edited free and low cost eBooks from indie authors, I find myself appalled when a traditional publisher cannot produce something with equally high quality.

Still, the stories are good, and I would recommend this compilation for all space opera fans. If you want to read more of Andre Norton’s books, several are available free from Project Gutenberg.

Book Review – On Basilisk Station by David Weber

OnBasiliskStationTitle: On Basilisk Station
Author: David Weber
Publisher: Baen
First Published: 1993
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

I’ve picked up several free e-books from Amazon since I first got my Kindle two years ago. This was one. Most of the others were ‘indie’ or self-published and most were surprisingly well written and enjoyable. This was neither.

When I saw this on the list of Amazon freebies, I grabbed it because I know the series has something of a following. Scanning down the reviews that have been posted, I saw many have raved about this book. I can only wonder why. Perhaps the Kindle version I got was an unpolished draft. It certainly read like one.

This is a pulp sci-fi military space opera, and although these can be fun, this particular book has few redeeming qualities. There is a large cast of cardboard characters and enough techno-babble to choke a Vulcan, but, with a judicious amount of skimming, I found the story engaging enough for me to finish reading (almost). I couldn’t take any more by the end and skimmed the last few pages.

The poor writing style was obvious from the start. The prose is amateurish. The first ten to fifteen percent of the book is primarily backstory and exposition. If this were a self-published book, I would have stopped reading and concluded that the writer needed to develop his skills a bit more. But this book has a traditional publisher (Baen), and it has fans. I kept reading, thinking it must get better as it goes on.

It didn’t.

I almost gave up again half way in because the setting and characters were beginning to strain my ability suspend disbelief. Perhaps the most implausible aspect was that Honor Harrington (the unbelievingly self-disciplined lead character) increasingly appears to be just about the only truly competent commanding officer in the Royal Manticoran (space) Navy. If this were a work of comedy or satire, this would be fine, but it’s not. We’re supposed to accept that this is plausible. Even under an archaic form of monarchy (more on this later), where commissions are handed out based on family as often as they are on achievement, I have trouble accepting that any military organization could accept, or operate with, such a high amount of incompetence. (There is also a dysfunctional political system operating largely behind the scenes, which is, sadly, plausible, although I also doubt such a system can endure long without getting its act together.)

About eighty percent in, I considered tossing it aside again. In the middle of a chase scene, in which Honor’s ship is pursuing a much larger and more heavily armed enemy ship (for which she has no real plan how to defeat), the narrative devolves into a long exposition on the history of the faster than light technology they use. If there is ever a time for something like this, a chase scene is not it.

The battle scenes, especially the naval battles, are competently drawn, although a bit graphically for my taste. The wholesale slaughter of Bronze Age aliens (by the ‘good’ guys) with little remorse or reflection gave me one of those WTF moments. The ‘glory of war’ aspect of these scenes predominates. The ‘tragedy of war’ aspect is largely limited to instances when the ‘good guys’ lose or take casualties. The concept of war, the ethical considerations, and alternatives to it are largely ignored. That kind of underlying message became clearer as the book progressed. If there is a theme to this story, it is something along the lines of ‘duty above all else,’ ‘violence is always a first and best response,’ ‘war is inevitable,’ or ‘might makes right.’

But there really are no ‘good guys’ in this story. No one has a clear claim to the moral high ground. Honor is a citizen of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, a hereditary monarchy with privileged, landed gentry, self-serving corporations, a multiparty political system that seems largely inept, and a culture that feels almost medieval. Their rivals are the People’s Republic of Haven, a star nation of military expansionists with a strained, socialist economy. The book provides little more insight than this into their respective cultures, but I doubt I would want to live in either. I saw insufficient reason to favor one side over the other in their squabbles despite Haven’s particularly nasty effort to foment something like the Boxer Rebellion by supplying drugs to the Bronze Age natives of Medusa. I got the impression that the Manticorans would have few ethical qualms about doing something similar if they found it expedient.

The formatting of the eBook was also poorly done. The text was double-spaced throughout, with forced line justification and missing scene breaks.

Maybe I’ve come to expect too much from a free eBook, but almost all of those I’ve seen had something going for them—a good story, interesting characters, a thought provoking theme, or even just proper formatting. This book fails in all regards.

If books were like TV, this one would be on par with Saturday morning cartoons or professional wrestling. I realize that many people enjoy that kind of stuff. That’s fine. Different people like different things. I, however, cannot recommend this, not even as a freebie. There are far better books available for the same cost.

Book Review – Unwise Child by Randall Garrett

Unwise ChildTitle: Unwise Child
Author: Randall Garrett
Publisher: Doubleday and Company, Inc., Copyright 1962
Genre: Science Fiction

Digital editions of this book is available free from Amazon and from Project Gutenberg.

M. R. Gabriel (Mike the Angel) is the tall and wealthy head of a power generation company. He is also a reserve officer in the Space Patrol, and he is recalled to duty as to serve as chief engineer of the space vessel Branchell, which carries engines his company designed and built. It also carries a unique cargo, or perhaps it should be called a passenger, a computer/database/robot known as Snookums, which they are taking to a distant planet and a base that is being specially constructed to house it. It cannot be left on Earth. It is potentially far too dangerous. It knows much and has an insatiable curiosity to know more.

This novel deals with crime, revenge, religion, and the nature of knowledge. At the core, the plot is a whodunit. Mysterious things are happening aboard the Branchell, and a man is attacked. Another is murdered. Suspicion falls on Snookums, which has been behaving even more curious (in both senses of the word) than usual.

It is clear from the beginning that this is not a modern work of science fiction. It was written before modern computers or microchips, so the ‘brain’ of the device is far more massive than one might imagine today and requires cooling to near absolute zero. Most of the characters are male and everyone smokes. The only female character is a child psychologist (responsible for nurturing Snookums) who serves double duty as Gabriel’s love interest.

Despite the archaic sexist undertones, over respect for cultural sensitivities, and clunky technology, I found this to be a very enjoyable book. The characters are not deeply developed, but they are believable extrapolations from a mid Twentieth Century template.

The story unfolds well and provides a satisfying conclusion. I would recommend it to those who enjoyed Asimov’s Robot books and all fans of space opera. You can’t beat it for the price.

Book Review – Moral Flux by Stephen Sackleigh

Title: Moral Flux
Author: Stephen Sackleigh
Publisher: Stephen Sackleigh, Copyright 2012
Genre: Science Fiction

An android piloting a small, science exploration ship is rerouted by his owners to find out why one of their nearby outposts on one of Jupiter’s small moons has not checked in recently. When he arrives, he finds the outpost has been intentionally destroyed, and one of the workers is fleeing for her life. The inexplicable inhumanity this exhibits forces him to make a choice. Should he stay out of it, or should he act to protect someone in danger of being harmed? If he does act, it may require that he harm other people, which his programming prohibits.

Moral Flux is a space opera with spaceships and androids. It is also an adventure, in which the good guys take on an evil and powerful corporate enemy to right wrongs in classic Robin Hood fashion. The character development is good, the setting is well described, and the future tech and culture are believable, although neither is terribly futuristic. It’s good science fiction with a touch of moral philosophy, which, through an almost human android, explores questions of human ethics and free choice.

Those are the good points I saw. As for negatives, there are a few of those as well. This story could and probably should have been expanded into a longer book. I found some of the story elements a bit disjointed and occasionally too serendipitous. Our android hero arrives just in time to save the damsel in distress, for example, even though the outpost must have been attacked much earlier. At one point, the narrative jumps to the abduction of a conman from a passenger ship. There is no foreshadowing of this event. We don’t see our heroes plan for it or even discuss it beforehand. All of a sudden, this is happening, but we don’t find out why until after. Then there is the conman’s almost instant agreement to join them. It all seemed to be rushing the story to conclusion, which it should not. This story overall is quite good, and I would have stuck around to read those bits that were left out. I also thought the prose could use some polish in places and another round with a proofreader. There were not a lot of typos, but there were a few.

I liked this story more than many I’ve read recently, and I recommend it for science fiction fans, especially those who enjoyed Asimov’s robot books.

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