- One of the best things you can do in life is buy a book.
- The next best thing you can do is read the book you bought.
- The next next best thing you can do is review that book.
The first list item is economic in nature. Buying books allows retailers to keep their doors open for the rest of us to buy more books.The second item on the list is for you — reading is one of the greatest ways to develop creativity. The influence of reading on creativity has been studied.The last item is for the writer: how do we know whether what we’ve written has reached anyone if readers don’t let us know? Sure, if you know the writer personally, you can pop over to their flat, give them a hug, and say, ‘Great job!’ If you don’t live close, you could send a text, mail a note, or give a thumb’s up on social media or their blog. All that is great, but what about the other people who might see the book and wonder about getting a copy? Your review could make the difference between a pass-over or a sale.So you may be wondering why this review is here in the Cave instead of on Amazon, where the book above is listed.No worries, as a version of this review will be available on Amazon as well. Now, on to the meat and taters of this post, which is broken into two sections: The Great and Suggestions to Take Great to Amazing.The GreatIt is no small feat to write a book. It is back-breaking (brain-breaking?) work. However, when two writers combine their talents, the gauntlet has been thrown and the challenge truly begins.Michael and Matt have done an incredible job by combining their talents in this text. The reader will be hard-pressed to find chinks in the armor, to find where one writer leaves off and the other takes up the banner.But wait! There’s more: it’s a great story.Now, before you start rolling your eyes, I’m not saying that just because I follow their blog posts (moment of transparency — I’d thought I had followed Michael’s but discovered, much to my dismay, that I’d been lurking. The issue has been rectified as of this writing, honest).I’m saying that it’s a great story because I read it.Cover to cover.There are two signs of a good story: the reader gets lost in it and the reader is never lost.
- A story that flows well takes the reader on a journey: we can see the characters and feel their emotions. As our eyes carry the words to our brains, the locations, odors, and textures come alive.
- A story that flows well is one in which the reader can trace their mental steps from the first page through to the end. Ever watch a movie and say to yourself at some point, ‘Wait! What happened to that girl? She started as one of the main characters and then disappeared!’ Loose ends are annoying and a good story doesn’t have them.
A bonus sign of a good story is the cliffhanger: that moment when the reader has reached the last page and dashes to their nearest electronic device to search out whether there is a Part II available.Erratic Sun includes all three of these elements. And more.Readers want believable characters, which may be missing for some in science fiction stories. Say the words ‘science fiction’ to certain people you know and their brows furrow. They immediately think of impossible aliens and fear created by the unknown (yeah, like ‘Alien’). Sure, Sun takes place in an unknown star system on foreign planets. However, the characters are people to whom most can relate. Captain Terry Dadam is strong but vulnerable, cares about the people he manages, and is a jack of all trades, just like many supervisors. Shift, Trink, Hatcher, Dane, and Gillian work together well, despite the tensions of close quarters. Their personalities are evident and not overbearing, making them all the more real. But a good story is not made by protagonists alone: the bad guys in this tale are sprinkled throughout, generously. The primary antagonists have allies in strange places and the reader is drawn into Captain Dadam’s head as he attempts to figure out who might be the traitor in his midst. The Sun‘s crew members are described with such evenness that it is not possible to guess who it might be.
Gillian’s finger was pressed firmly into Dane’s chest as Terry entered the room. Her stance was defiant and accusatory. Her ire was evident in her flaming eyes. For his part, Dane wasn’t backing down a inch and Terry wondered if he was going to have to step between the two of them before their disagreement came to blows. The prospect of a fight wasn’t appealing at all. (p. 37)
There is triumph and there is sadness. The reader is hard-pressed not to look away, at least mentally, when the horrors of war strike the members of the likable crew.
The pilot’s eyes became clearer, and his mouth opened. No words came with the moving lips but there was definite intent, Shift was trying to say something. The Sun’s cew watched as his gaze sought each of them out, and then settled upwards into Trink’s down-turned face. He breathed in deeply, and his body tensed as he struggled to get out what he wanted, what he needed, to say. …”I’m more than just a pilot.” … Before she could say anything else, Shifts breathing stopped. Terry considered ordering her to try to resuscitate him, but everyone in the room knew it was too late. (p. 188)
It becomes easy to forget this is a work of science fiction. However, the reader is brought back to the environment through beautiful imagery.
Shift danced the Erratic Sun in a life or death waltz among the stars. Without the constraint of gravity, and lacking a fixed horizon that would accompany being within the atmosphere of a planet, Shift was able to pilot the Erratic Sun in what would have otherwise been mind-bending maneuvers that would test the limits of the ship’s structural design. (p. 55)
Additionally, the science fiction element is evident when the antagonists bring the story to its climax. The ending (no spoilers here!) leaves the reader wanting that Part II. Badly. Today.Suggestions to Take Great to AmazingDisclaimer: this critique is coming from the academic side of this reviewer’s brain. While the other side of this brain finds Sun to be quite amazing, the academic side found four slightly sticky wickets that placed the rating down the ladder about two rungs at great instead.The first is a general lack of question marks in places where they would be most appropriate.
When they reached the cockpit, the doors opened, revealing Shift reclining in his chair with a big grin on his face. “You like that move I put on back there,” the pilot asked, clearly proud. (pp. 5-6)
A suggestion here might be to reword slightly so the question (as suggested by ‘asked’) is evident:
The pilot asked, “You like that move I put on back there?” He was clearly proud.
The second is occasional redundancy.
In the cockpit of the Erratic Sun, Captain Dadam watched as the planet Lorian, the fourth planet in the Lorian system, drifted past his viewport. Out of all seven planets in the system, only two of them were habitable: Lorian, and their destination, the sixth planet, Corment. Looking at the planet Lorian was always a strange experience to Captain Dadam. It was a mostly brown planet that ws covered in blue and gray spots. (p. 36)
There are six uses of the word ‘planet’ in these few sentences. A slight edit would cut that back and help the section flow a bit more smoothly:
In the cockpit of the Erratic Sun, Captain Dadam watched as Lorian, the fourth planet in a system of the same name, drifted past his viewport. Looking at Lorian, with its brown surface covered in blue and gray spots, was a strange experience to the captain. Out of the seven planets in the system, only two were habitable: Loriana and Corment, the sixth planet and their destination.
More could probably be done here, but the ‘planet’ count is now down to three uses.
The third issue relates to comma use. It is a common thing for commas to be used in writing to signify pauses:
The screaming lasted for an uncomfortably long time but, when Captain Dadam had heard enough and was going to demand that Trink do something to stop it, Officer Tunnam quieted on his own. (p. 118)
In this example, the comma would be appropriately placed before the ‘but’:
The screaming lasted for an uncomfortably long time, but when Captain Dadam had heard enough …
A comma near a ‘but’ is only necessary when the phrase after it could stand alone because it has its own subject and verb agreement going on.
Another example of this issue is when commas are offered in places where a speaker might pause:
“I suspect we’ll stay hidden just as long on our own as we would with Skinder’s help. So, either way, we’re dead …” (p. 119)
The first comma after ‘So’ isn’t needed in written form. A reader might naturally and mentally pause at that point. Or not. But what is more important here is that if the ‘either way’ is removed, the meaning of the sentence changes slightly. The commas are only needed to chunk information in a way that allows the sentences to make sense with or without the info. See this link and this one for more on commas if you are curious.
The last issue is minor, but still important to the academic geeks in the room:
With that, Gillian threw her hands up in the air and attempted to brush past Terry, but the Captain held out an arm to keep her from leaving. (p. 37)
I would dare say that based on the previous point, the comma before ‘Gillian’ can be removed. However, that’s not what we’re looking at. In this instance, ‘Captain’ does not need to be capitalized. ‘Captain Dadam’, where ‘Captain’ is the salutation, should be capitalized. However, when used as a general identifier as in ‘the captain held out an arm’, it does not.
Those of us who write have our own quirks and conventions but when we publish, it helps to follow a few standards. There are a few exceptions, particularly in science fiction and fantasy, where linguistic nuances are more fluid. To that point, feel free to ignore my grammatical comments herein and label this text as amazing as-is. If I weren’t an academic geek, I would.Be sure to click the book image to visit the Amazon page and pick up a Kindle or paperback copy of this book for yourself.And don’t forget to go back after you finish and leave a review. Writers everywhere, especially these two, will thank you for it.