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Old 02-13-2011, 01:29 AM   #1
David Marseilles
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SPS Review: Jeffrey Carver's Neptune Crossing

Slushpile Sleuths: A loose-knit group endeavoring to bring Indie and Mobileread authors' ebooks greater attention. With widely varying levels of quality amongst such titles, this group aims to make figuring out what to read easier. We're slowly getting started and could always use some help. See more at sps.dreamwidth.org and at our mobileread social group

eBook details:
Author's site: http://www.starrigger.net/ebooks.htm
Smashwords | Amazon link
Tier: Originally traditionally published; self-republished; mobileread author.


Review of Neptune Crossing (The Chaos Chronicles, Vol 1): I wasn't very far into this book before I realized that I was (mostly) reading a one-man show. John Bandicut and the voice in his head are the primary characters in this fairly slow-paced and thoughtful scifi novel. I had the lingering feeling that the narrative model was something I had experienced before, and I've realized where that typically is: in well-made indie movies. The problem with most budget movies (made for tv) is that every single element is underfunded so they just do a bad job across the board, but you can make a budget audio-visual project well by focusing your resources and writing your script for the budget you have. I recently watched one such indie flick with a single set, one room that was maybe 500 square feet. Despite the obvious budgetary restrictions, they had the good sense to embrace those restrictions instead of ignoring them and as a result made a better movie than most movies with budgets many times larger.

Writing a book often doesn't invoke the spectre of a production budget, so why are most of the scenes in this book taking place in the main character's head? What I've come to realize is that just because budget restrictions introduced me to the format does not mean it isn't a fertile sandbox to be exploited in other mediums where the same restriction doesn't exist. Indeed, what separates a great book from a good book often is not what is written, but what isn't written. Great books weave together disparate threads into a single story, and to do that well usually involves weaving around reality. While books have to make sense, reality never will. Carver's use of this method serves to intensify the book's focus on character over genre, and the characters are interesting, multi-dimensional beings worthy of your valuable entertainment time.

This is not a great book, but it is a good read, and a big part of what brings it to the level of a good read is Carver's focus on developing these two main characters. Bandicut's journey is believable and one a flawed and non-heroic reader like myself can connect to. The journey of the voice in Bandicut's head is less coherent, and is one of the book's weaknesses. Without spoiling events in the title, I can only that there is a random, slightly meaningless milestone this character hits that fails to land but is sort of a neutral force in the book, until it happens again, prompting this reviewer to roll his eyes. I leave room that this vague and clouded repetitive milestone is further developed later in this series (The Chaos Chronicles) and takes on more meaning that actually does propel the story or characters forward, but it held this particular chapter of the Chronicles back.

One final weakness of this book comes in the form of a genre identity crisis. Perhaps it was the period in which it was written -- if you can recall, 1995 was a very different era in science fiction. Anyway, the author seems to want to excuse the title for not being hard science fiction when no excuse is needed. There are cues in the text that make you think there will be a focus on technical detail -- that chaos theory will be interwoven into the story in a comprehensive way. But when the subject is broached, the only knowledgeable character makes a show of not explaining the science and brushing aside further inquiry since the topic is beyond the grasp of the main character, John Bandicut. The weakness to the story is not that it is soft science fiction, but rather in the awkward style that the author seems to oscillate on what sub-genre the book will be in. Carver should have embraced the character-driven style in which this book is mostly written rather than cuing the audience up for science that never really appeared.

In conclusion, Neptune Crossing is well-written and a good read. The weaknesses listed above only interfere with a good story and good characters if you really want to focus and obsess over them. Arguably, those weaknesses only exist in my own head. The pacing of Neptune Crossing is slow, cozy and easy reading (definitely not a thriller). Although not the most technical of scifi, the genre is attended to in blending a rough, frontier vista with a futuristic, technological, and alien environment that scratches the itch of anyone who consumes a broad spectrum of science fiction (rather than the consumer who is very picky about their sub-genres). At the same time, the focus on characters over trappings opens up the story to readers who typically only consume lighter, more mainstream scifi.

Disclaimer: This is only the best taste I can give you of the title. My assessment is only as good as my experiences and perspective. Where I see weakness, you may find strength. I welcome counter-points and arguments from other readers.

I don't personally provide a score for reviews, but provide a context senstive recommendation in the final paragraph. In other words, you'll like this book if x, y or z.

Last edited by David Marseilles; 03-04-2011 at 10:34 AM.
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