I was contacted through my GoodReads account by Scott Jucha with a rather flattering request. Because of my taste for and reviews of books like Nathan Lowell's Quarter Share, Mr. Jucha wanted to know if I would be interested in an e-ARC of his upcoming, debut novel The Silver Ships. The standard agreement applied: book in exchange for review. I agreed, of course, and had the pleasure of not only reading his book, but of knowing that I provided formative feedback on the appendix/glossary, too.
The Silver Ships is the story of Alexander Racine, a mathematical wonder who adores solving practical starship problems as well as proving them personally. He graduated from the planetary university with honors and some business patents to become a solo pilot capturing near-planet asteroids and shipping them to the home planet system for their water. In a refreshing burst of normalcy, Alex is the older of two children in a regular, loving family. He is a thoughtful loner with good ties to his mentors and a strong sense of self.
When the book opens, Alex is working his plan to become financially independent and provide for his own future. He is busy harvesting the asteroids in his AI-driven starship when an unidentified (I.e. non-planetary) object goes streaking by. With a lot of math and a little luck, Alex manages to intercept and capture the UFO in his tractor beams. What he finds changes the technology and politics of his home system, and provides him with a personal challenge that changes his future and his goals forever.
What it doesn't do is change his humanity.
The Solar Ships had the same mental taste to me as might Lowell's first Solar Clipper trilogy combined with the snippets of the Lee/Miller Liaden Universe that includes the character Jeeves. To be sure, this was not a deep or difficult book to read, with a simple but comprehensive clash of cultures and technologies. The story was quick to move and smart to linger, dwelling on character developments for pages and then brushing by months of technology in a paragraph. The character developments included Alex's relationship with a self-aware digital entity named Julien - who might have taken lessons from Jeeves - and a woman named Renée who is easiest described as being from the better side of the tracks.
I am a major fan of books with a "clash of cultures" subplot. In The Silver Ships, I really enjoyed the characters, and so I also enjoyed the detours for development of plotless characters -like Alex's ebullient and extroverted sister Christie - that provided more depth to the world-building. The history of the human colonies packed into the author's evolution of the New Terra socio-political structure could take its own series of stories to bring us up to current day. Even Alex's family had their own hinted talents that might someday be brought forward in an anthology of backstories.
The biggest weakness in the story was the instant relationship between Alex and Renée. The first many chapters of the book dwell on Alex's poor interpersonal skills with women and age-mates. Renée suffers from classic desire-at-first sight. Neither of these things are flattering or helpful to the development of their partnership and romance. The reader's omniscience inside the minds of Alex, Renée, and Julien ruins any mystery of romance, as well. The second gripe I have with the story is that one of the three guys we are set up not to like is the only guy who gets killed "on screen." Neither of these problems is a significant detractor to the action or the development of Alex's heroic transformation.
Mr. Jucha did a fine job with providing both a good intellectual development and physical plot progression. The end of The Silver Ships sets up the confrontations in the sequel - physical and cultural - to expand on the first themes. I'm looking forward to reading Libre this summer.
As another aside - I hope that Mr. Jucha's use of French remains at its current level, if only for the double meanings and ironic implications. The luxury passenger ship named Rêveur sounded so ordinary until I looked it up in a real dictionary, and discovered that it not only means "dreamer" but can also translate in some circumstances as "idealist."
I picked up this book because it matched my taste profile, and I was not disappointed. I recommend it to fans of the Liaden Universe, the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, and Hellspark. I recommend it to adults looking for a light sci-fi read, but not to children.
Books read in 2015