This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Next on the SPSFC list was Eden M51, by G. R. Paskoff.
I was immediately impressed and entertained by the great opening lines even if the prologue and characters therein weren’t necessarily vital to the story. It was still a really good hook. We also see an insufferable wife and a scheming ex-wife in the first few pages, which sort of sets the tone for a lot of the female characters in the story. Only one or two of them actually get to the end with integrity and body intact. I don’t think it’s malicious, though – and there are great characters in here, male and female and hero and villain alike. It’s well worth a look, so you can make up your own mind.
We are introduced to Commander Nathaniel ‘Nate’ Hawke, a good solid sci-fi action protagonist, and shown a nice slice of Earth and its culture and technology as he assembles his team (special shout-out to Dead Meat from Hot Shots!, who was never going to make it through this story alive but bless him) and prepares for the historic trip to the M51 galaxy and the potentially human-habitable world of Eden. They also take a whole bunch of people who are probably spies, a vile political lobbyist bureaucrat to represent humanity in any First Contact situations (this actually makes sense because if aliens see this cunt and still decide we’re okay, it’s all gravy from then on), and of course some army guys because you’ve got to have army guys. Also enough ammo to start an intergalactic war, although to be fair humans don’t need much fucking ammo to start an intergalactic war. Usually they just need the bureaucrat guy.
I am concerned that people will read almost half of this book thinking it is one thing, and either not make it through because they don’t like the thing, or be thrown for a loop when it turns out to be another thing (that they may or may not like). I noticed several reviews, not to mention the author’s note at the start of the book explaining why this was a new edition with some of those comments addressed, that confirmed this assessment. But given that I was pretty okay with Thing One, and very much okay with Thing Two, I was pretty happy throughout.
My first belly-laugh, in contrast to the appreciative chortle I got from the prologue, was Admiral Langolier. I just can’t get past langolier being a Stephen King thing and I kept expecting the Admiral to open his mouth to reveal row upon eternal whickering row of sharp, reality-devouring teeth. Anyway, that didn’t happen. Sorry. The story was still good but not as good as it might have been if Admiral Langolier had been an actual langolier. But look, you can say that about just about any story.
The future history of the Earth and solar system Paskoff writes of is at once gritty and dystopian, and filled with downright wondrous scientific advances. This is probably not far from the truth of how it will go. I just hope that if we do invent quantum tunnelling probes, teleportation hubs and the ability to fly thirty million light years in six months, we make use of it a little more effectively. But we’re humans, so I’m not holding my breath in the wait for us to miraculously not be shit. I mean, God gave up so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Some of the exposition about the world of the 23rd Century is a bit clumsy. Why did the boat skipper tell Hawke all that stuff about the climate collapse? It was valuable to the reader, and it was interesting that the skipper’s lived experience didn’t match what was taught in schools, but that fact was almost glossed over when it could have been an important plot point about Earthly politics and delusion. It might have risked further bloating and sidetracking of the narrative, though, so I do see the value in moving on. The Mars holocaust, in contrast, is tantalisingly mentioned and then later expanded on in a way that fits the story better, without becoming a big chunk of wait-what-I-want-to-know-more-about-that-come-back-skipper-come-baaaaaack for the reader to trip on.
My second belly-laugh was when I read about ‘chewbacco’. That was great. That was exactly where I thought Chewbacca got his name when I was a kid.
The political intrigue, murders and sabotage were all done really nicely, lending a sense of menace and stakes to the pre-launch and mid-flight plot. The characters were all distinctive and memorable. The story itself was solid old school space adventure on the way to and exploring a strange alien wossname, reminiscent of the Bowl of Heaven series by Niven and Benford. Only that had more interesting alien infrastructure, and this has more interesting humans. The plan for human colonisation as laid out by Snelling is instantly and catastrophically depressing, and it only gets worse. Don’t expect to come out of this feeling good about being a human. And if you felt good before now, you weren’t paying attention.
My third belly-laugh came when the aliens only wanted to talk to Hawke, and for a second it looked like it was because they were racist (or hair-and-eye-colour-ist). It was just such a fun and funny idea and scene, and although there turned out to be much more to it, I was left with a grin on my face. The aliens themselves, pacifist innocent-native communists of the most wonderful kind, were reminiscent (to my mind’e eye) of the Pearls of Mül, from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
All of this adds up to a good, if troubling read.
Hawke goes full Kirk really fast the second he sees a naked alien chick. And for some unfathomable reason, the first mission to Eden manages to sign on a man who straight-up tries to rape an alien child. This is solid true-to-form coloniser shit, but fuck if it isn’t depressing. Aside from that, and some shipboard romance and a lot of (literal) Frank banter, there’s little in the way of sex. Three slowly-opening dewy alien flowers out of a possible Pink Floyd music video.
We get a bit of violence but it is large-scale and not very gory. We get a couple of excellent assassinations on Earth and some murders on the ship en route to Eden, but the latter at least are relatively clinical. Still, a solid body count. Three-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for Eden M51.
I don’t understand how humanity has the technology to cross 30 million light years in six months, and this was the closest planet they could find. Aren’t there any in the Milky Way? Some lampshading about how hard it was to find one that was just right might have been good. Also, naturally, the big mid-to-two-thirds reveal was a huge and highly enjoyable WTF, but I was waiting for the connection to be drawn between ah’n-Ben and the mysterious power field around the planet. Maybe I just missed it? Was it implied? Was the power field even mentioned after they landed? Let’s award this one a 2001: A Space Odyssey out of a possible Star Trek V: The Final Frontier on the WTF-o-meter.
My Final Verdict
A really interesting take on higher powers and a harrowing look at colonialism and the general shittiness of humans. Four stars on the Goodreads / Amazon scale – I guess it would have been three-and-a-half since it was dragged down a little by some elements, but it was elevated by the philosophy of the second half. Excellent stuff!
I also want to add to this post, I’m Amazon-posting and Goodreads-posting and tweeting all of these reviews out, and I am particularly proud of the tweet Edpool crafted for this one.
*poke* wellness check! I may check this one out…an interesting/clever philosophy is always a good read for me!
It was definitely entertaining, and a quick read. I’d be curious to see what you thought of the main plot pivot.
I’m alive, don’t expect much more from me right now because I’m overloaded and trying not to spiral.
I expect you not to spiral! But nothing more than that on my end, bro!
Hanging in there, sir! Considering taking a day or two off work before I burn out.
Oh man I’ve been thinking about that too! We’ve got this Monday off, let’s see if that restores me a bit.
OK so I’m a little ways in, Langolier has given Hawke the news, and I have to say while the writing is refreshingly solid (not cheeseburger) in most ways, the overwhelming pop culture references are driving me nuts. Also Hawke being that stereotypical Jack Reacher / Ethan Hunt type is not ideal. But I’m giving it a go for the other parts!
And by that I mean the alien sex! Of course! Of course….
I do recall being a little flummoxed by pop culture references that would technically have to be decades old … right?
But I’m glad you dived in! Thanks for throwing your support at a deserving indie!
There were so many, and in particular the music ones, that I got the feeling the author was trying to get me to like the book by triggering nostalgia. Felt really cheap.
So, I’m back after finishing this book and first can I say DAMN you have been reading like a mofo son! You’re reading more than I’m gaming, I’d wager! Nicely done, bro, I hope these authors appreciate what some of them surely do not deserve.
OK on to this book and your review. Your review was AWESOME, from someone who has now read the book. Spot on, dude. Really well done all around. I can answer one question you had, the energy field around the planet was hinted as actually BEING ahn-Ben, or, you know…OF him. So there’s that.
As for the book, it was pretty good. You’re right, a lot of reality and human insights throughout. A solid second half with a lot to say. Similar to your books where humans are involved, lots of ice water down the back and all that, what hey?
Now. I was going to put all the silly “right wing author detected” stuff I had earmarked into this comment, but now I’m not going to. Because I think I was wrong. The rest of the book tells me I was wrong, and even the author’s note etc. kind of does, too.
What I think was ACTUALLY going on was the author was trying to write a right-wing character in Hawke, although not an insane one like what we have now, and it was a little clumsy. A bit much, etc. So hey, that’s fine. It is hard to get inside their heads, and it’s also lonely and echoey in there. So, let’s move past that!
My biggest gripe is the end of the book is a copout! I mean it was long enough, this can be covered in a sequel, but he chose not to write the very hardest part of all of this story! I admit I never like these “choose your ending” books but most of the time, the ending sort of writes itself.
But not this time! I think it’s truly lazy and a copout to end it where he did. What do you think?
I’ll have to have a think about the ending now you mention it in these terms and put me on the spot a bit, I’ll circle back to it! Really appreciate this feedback on the reviews and the faith you’re showing in checking out some of these books! Seven left in round one, and hopefully will be dropping three of those reviews tomorrow.
As to the ideology at play in the opening and specifically Hawke, you’re exactly right in my opinion. I certainly haven’t purity-tested this author (burn me once, you know what I mean), but when you’re making an old-fashioned manly-man type hero who is moral yet also punches bad guys and fucks dames, you’re gonna wind up with a pretty solid conservative archetype. For better or worse.
I think in this case it was for better, but my thoughts hadn’t really crystallised on it until your comment. So, cheers!
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