Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review: Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins

Powell's Books
B&N Nook Book Free!
Randolf Lalonde - © 2010

Jonas Valent is an underachieving video gamer who illegally hacked into military training simulations and unknowingly whooped their best teams. His crew is found out and recruited to become the crew of an elite shadow ship for their home in remote space called, Freeground Station. They’re given a fully refit 400 year old ship with the mission to go out into the universe and collect new technology for Freeground. Cool.

Sci-fi has never been my genre of choice, perhaps because I’m a bit claustrophobic and the idea of being confined to a ship for years and possibly dying the the frozen vacuum of space is a bit, well, awful. However I appreciate how writers of sci-fi stories can be wonderfully imaginative. Free from the limitations of current technologies and geography, writers can pluck choice apples of theoretical physics and bake them into their stories. The pie comes out warm with super sweet gadgets and chewy with fun cosmological science stuff. I love it when authors invent new social and societal structures that are recognizable vectors of current society, with cool original ideas for connecting people across the vastness of space. But regardless of the genre, it is good solid characters, their interactions and personal growth that makes or breaks the story for me.

And that’s what broke the story for me. With the exception of the character, Oz, I never had any feeling (like nor dislike) for the characters. I had trouble remembering their names, they were just flat, one dimensional things. The author, Randolf LaLonde belabored their development with long discussions that were intended to reveal character depth but in the end just detracted from the story and slowed things down. I kept thinking that a discussion or meeting was somehow important foreshadowing for future events. I would mentally catalog ideas but they never turned into anything. Arg! Perhaps one of the inherent limitations of writing in the first person is that you can only see everyone through the window of one dull character’s eyes. When I mentioned this to my husband, he said, “If he’s really good with the technical stuff he’s probably not that great with people.” Of course! Had Randolf known his strengths better he would have devoted that energy to the plot and technical aspects of the story.  I wouldn't have cared about the characters, they’d just be props in an amazingly interesting story.

What Mr. Lalonde did well was the application of theoretical physics into the machinery of the story. Their ship is composed of metal that will regenerate itself when damaged, it has inertial dampeners to soften the blow of impacts, they capture a power source that derives energy from a singularity (an itty bitty big bang). They also capture a particle accelerator, and put it to use making antimatter for weapons. The ship can generate worm holes for fast fun travel experiences. Need something? Just go to a handy materializer station. Drop in your garbage, program in what you want, a sandwich say, and it’ll re-scramble the atoms into a hot turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy. Cool. And that’s just the ship.

The idea that they’re on a “shadow ship” out capturing technology for their home station, Freeground is fun too. The evil corporations are also fun to see operate on a galactic scale. I love how corporate technology is cutting edge (in their time) but mass produced and cheap (like in our time). I liked all the creativity that went into how the disparate governments and corporations and the inevitable politics therein work on a grand galactic scale. *Breathe* He did a great job revealing all of this in small digestible pieces, that you eat up and ask for more. And then the characters start talking again...

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