Monday, March 30, 2015

Review::Take the Star Road by Peter Grant

Take the Star Road (The Maxwell Saga, #1)Take the Star Road by Peter Grant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Take the Star Road (The Maxwell Saga Book 1) by Peter Grant

This novel is billed as being on par with Heinlein's juvenile series of novels and I can almost reconcile how that comes about. There are a number of problems with that assessment that I feel must be addressed. In all I enjoyed the story and the writing; but felt in many ways that this falls short of what it could be by some simple style choices. These same choices seem to be what would begin to distance this reader from comparing it to the Heinlein that I remember. There is room for thought that others might find the assessment of this work to be spot on; so I think as usual that it is best for future readers to make their own judgment. Of course to that end for some it might involve having to acquaint themselves with Heinlein's work.

To begin one thing that does hold true to Heinlein is the treatment of women in the novel is indicative of the expected treatment of someone writing back in the late fifties and early sixties. I'm not sure that is much of an endorsement though.

Steve Maxwell is an orphan. He's lived a rough life-from the sound of it-and has become seriously disillusioned of Earths government and is now working as a dishwasher on a space terminal with the hopes that he can scratch together enough funds to continue his education to a point he can qualify to work aboard a space vessel to reach the Commonweath: where he might hope to work to become a citizen. Steve has a certain moral ethics that is quite outstanding; but we don't learn this so much from him or from watching him as we do from having characters tell us this. We don't get close enough to Steve to really be able to examine this and this for me caused some puzzling incongruities. Steve is loyal and trustworthy and hardworking and he also holds title to second dan in karate. We learn all of this in the first chapter-along with a few other things. Almost enough to say we know everything we need to know just in that chapter alone.

Steve is near destitute while working for Louie in a saloon that caters to spacers and is at least a close connection to Steve's pursuits. Louie is not just a successful business man; but he is someone who has ties to the shady Dragon Tong who control this sector. The Lotus Tong mean to move in-apparently oblivious to the hornet’s nest they are stepping into-and they put pressure on Louie; who blows them off, resulting in them attacking Louie while Steve is still around and has a chance to display his talent and save his employer and endear himself to the Dragon Tong who consider Louis an irreplaceable resource. This also results in a reward removing that period of destitution; and indebtedness of his employer who will help facilitate his career with the Commonwealth. This is also the first time Steve has been involved in killing someone.

This covers a majority of the plot and a reader could almost skip to the last few chapters. I wouldn't personally recommend that; because for me it's the journey ( not the start point and destination) that counts. And there are still some things the reader has to learn about Steve and there is this puzzle about his seeming moral stance mentioned earlier and his easy acceptance of the forsaking of proper authority while allowing the Dragon Tong to administer their own justice to the Lotus Tong. And this will eventually lead to a bit more trouble for Steve before he leaves the Terminal for his career in space. But that misfortune will result in the fortune of obtaining an item that will become important later.

In many ways as a reader I was seeing more similarities to Voltair's Candide than to Heinlein's works. (In fact I reread Candide because of this.)Steve is rather naive, or at least seems that way; and that condition causes some discomfort that often results in unexpected fortune. The main difference between Steve and Candide is that Steve never really suffers as much physically. Morally Steve seems to be walking the fence between the pristine Commonweath he wants to join and the seedy underworld of the Dragon Tong without much thought that those two might conflict with each other somewhere down the line. But before that we must face the incongruity between his morals and his ending up in bed with his bosses girlfriend. This is passed off as something similar to the old trope about the big sendoff of the young soldier heading to boot camp and to battle. Only in this case Steve is heading toward everything good that he's imagined for his life.

The middle part of the novel becomes an even paced story-maybe too even paced. Throughout Steve has a favorite phrase that signals a bit of something that becomes too obvious: eventually. It varies a bit from; I hear; to I see; to the most favored of-I get it. What this signals is the completion of a long dialogue that begins in the form of the old ‘as you know’ or ‘as you should know’ or ‘let me explain’. If you’re a fan of dialogue, that’s good; because with this formula you get a lot of it. The middle of this book is a lot of world building where you will get a lot of science of this universe and how things work and even the structure of the hierarchy of crew on space ships and some of the military of the Commonwealth. All accomplished through dialogue. Because of that we lack in narrative that might bring us close to Steve. Lacking some in the five senses and mostly in any expressions that might confirm what we are led to believe about his morality, which we are mostly to take for granted through what others express and some face value. That is where the problem arises because we don't know exactly how he feels having to be closely allied with the Dragon Tong and looking to join the Commonwealth while maintaining his sense of morality.

I'm hoping; perhaps some of this will show up better in the future stories of this series.

Still: This is a good story overall and a great beginning to a new series that promises to open a whole new world or universe for us as Steve matures. If I have any complaint it might be that there is a point, when you read this you will see, where Steve seems to take a sharp turn from naive to some bit of too much cunning as he begins to try to steer developments between him and the Dragon Tong. So far the Commonwealth has either been oblivious to his Dragon Tong connection or they don't perceive it as a problem and we really don't know what Steve is thinking and once again at best we can hope that the next few stories will begin sorting that all out.

I'd love to give this four or five stars; but it faltered for me and as usual it could be chalked up to not enough character development in regards to getting up close and personal with the main character, which is my personal preference.

Great SFF and good for YA though there might be some moral ripples to work through and though we get a lot of ‘science’ I’m not sure it is that important to the story.

J.L. Dobias

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