A Light in the Dark (Tales from the Deep Dark I) – Nathan Lowell

ALightintheDarkThis novella is set several decades before Ishmael’s adventures in Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper. Captain Gunderson and his crew run into a small rock way out in the Deep Dark, leaving the jump engine disabled. They are off the shipping lanes and slowly running out of consumables.

This was enjoyable for the character interactions but nothing groundbreaking. A pleasant diversion.

3Rosbochs

Captain’s Share (Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper V) – Nathan Lowell

GoldenAgeoftheSolarClipper5CaptainsShareAfter a decade on the William Tinkerwhere he has progressed from third mate to first mate, Ishmael finally sits for Captain and shortly thereafter receives command of the Agamemnon, a small cargo ship with only eight crew. The Aganemnon  has a bad reputation. It is crewed by troublemakers and misfits, and profits have been abysmal.

Unlike Double Share, this book goes back to the adventures in normality model. The problems with the crew are swiftly and painlessly resolved through the application of some good old fashioned leadership. It is still an enjoyable read because the characters are richly realized, and the pithy dialogue is excellent.

On a side note, it seems rather unrealistic to be shipping things like gases and clay from planetary system to planetary system, unless shipping is ridiculously cheap of course. Having said that, the books aren’t really about the items that are being traded, but rather about shipboard life, so I’m willing to forgive Lowell on this point.

3Rosbochs

Double Share (Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper IV) – Nathan Lowell

TradersTalesfromtheGoldenAgeoftheSolarClipper4DoubleShareAfter graduating from the merchant marine officer’s academy, Ishmael Wang starts work as a “boot” Third Mate on the cargo ship William Tinker. He soon discovers that the ship has serious problems, with crew morale dangerously low. The Captain is a recluse who almost never comes out of his cabin, the First Mate is a sociopathic sexual predator and the crew is subject to daily humiliation and assault.

While the first three books of the series are mildly enjoyable, this one ups the ante considerably. Mr. Lowell knows how to write pithy dialogue and describe character dynamics. What was missing was serious conflict in the plot. Nothing momentous really happened in the first three books. Certainly this was by design, as Mr. Lowell did not want his character to be some kind of “chosen one” and have a glorious foretold destiny. However this made for pretty dull stories only held aloft by the interest the reader had in the protagonist. While there are no exploding stars in this book, the gravely dysfunctional crew of the William Tinker makes for interesting reading, especially when Ishmael inevitably starts rebelling against the status quo.

4Rosbochs

 

Full Share (Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper III) – Nathan Lowell

TheGoldenAgeoftheSolarClipper3FullShareAfter an accident involving a coronal mass ejection cripples the ship and threatens the lives of the entire crew, Ishmael is set to work investigating why the safety systems failed. He is now fully rated, meaning a higher share of profits, but the officers pressure him into thinking about the officer’s academy.

After the somewhat disappointing Half Share, Full Share finally puts Ishmael and the rest of the crew of the Lois McKendrick in some real danger. Adventures in normality among generally nice people can only go so far and real tension and conflict is required to make things interesting. The end of the book, while again unrealistically portraying Ishmael as catnip for women, at least does so in a fun way that will appeal to the reader. Shameless is the word, but it works.

3Rosbochs

Half Share (Trader’s Tales of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper II) – Nathan Lowell

GoldenAgeoftheSolarClipper2HalfShare

The second book in the series picks up exactly where Quarter Share left off. Ishmael transfers from the galley to environmental. He also starts to come to terms with women and relationships with such.

As in the first book, there is no imminent danger and there are no action scenes. Mr. Lowell has a knack for making ordinary pursuits interesting, but his dialogue flirts with cheesiness rather too often. The second half of the book is a departure. In no time flat, Ishmael goes from normal uncertain eighteen-year old to hunk with perfect pick-up lines. The transformation is too fast and well over the top. To compound the problem, our teenage hero is seemingly the perfect man. He has no flaws and everyone likes him, especially women. Having said that, the characters, cheesy and somewhat unrealistic as they often are, certainly come alive on the page. I did feel a strong bond with the denizens of the SC Lois McKendrick, and I do want to find out what happens to them next.

2½Rosbochs

Quarter Share (Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper I) – Nathan Lowell

GoldenAgeoftheSolarClipperIQuarterShareTeenager Ishmael Wang’s mother dies suddenly and as a result he has ninety days before he is booted off the company-owned planet where he lives. One of the few options he has is to join the merchant navy.

This book purposefully eschews space opera staples like aliens, ship-to-ship battles and other disasters for a less spectacular story of hard work and dedication leading to success. While it could have been boring, I found myself rather enjoying young Ishmael’s adventures in normality. The trading between stars brought back fond memories to the hours I spent playing Elite and Frontier: Elite II way back when. Certainly this is not a gripping space adventure, but it is a fun diversion despite the oftentimes wooden dialogue.

3Rosbochs

The Six Directions of Space – Alastair Reynolds

TheSixDirectionsofSpaceIt is one thousand years since the founding of the Mongol Empire, and it now spans both the Earth and a vast galactic empire. A secret agent is sent to a remote sector to investigate problems with the interstellar transit system used by humanity; a system left behind by an ancient race.

The setting is interesting and the twist is well executed. An entertaining novella.

3Rosbochs

Camouflage – Joe Haldeman

CamouflageAn alien winds up on Earth and spends millions of years roaming it as a shark until one day in the 1930s it decides to take the form of a human. It spends the following decades learning about humanity and growing as a person. In an interleaved plot line, in 2019 an ancient alien artifact is found in the Pacific Ocean and a marine salvage company investigates.

The growth of the alien as a human is very well written, from tentative and often disastrous beginnings to a finding of true purpose and even love. The descriptions of humanity from the alien’s often uncomprehending viewpoint are fascinating, in particular the part during the Bataan Death March, where the worst of humanity is on display.

3½Rosbochs

 

 

Work Done for Hire – Joe Haldeman

WorkDoneforHireA veteran and struggling writer receives a dream contract for a movie novelization. Soon after, a sniper rifle is delivered to his doorstep and he is blackmailed into accepting a contract to murder a still unnamed victim. He goes on the run with his girlfriend.

I was sorely disappointed by this book. While it is competently written, the story is just a bland chase. The ending is anticlimactic and the “twist”, well, isn’t. The interleaved chapters with the novel the protagonist is writing are vaguely interesting but mostly seem like filler without ulterior purpose.

1½Rosbochs

The Tuloriad – John Ringo & Tom Kratman

TheTuloriadAfter the Posleen War ends, a small band of Posleen is smuggled off Earth in secret to start their civilization anew. They start on a sort of quest to find a home. At the same time, elements of humanity led by the Catholic Church aim to bring religion to these Posleen, saving their souls and making allies of them.

If you liked the other Posleen books, you will probably enjoy read this one. It doesn’t have much value if you haven’t read them, especially Yellow Eyes. It is reasonably good fun but there are no massive stakes. In some ways it is a setup for the Hedren War. The discussions on the role of religion are reasonably interesting, and superficially contrarian for a science fiction book.

2½Rosbochs