Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book review- Trader's Tales- Half Share

With barely enough time to keep up with my current work and writing obligations, I am finding myself with little time for recreational reading. Fortunately there is a vibrant audio archive out there, from news to fiction and I have a long enough commute to get some enjoyment in.

Trader's Tales: Half Share - Book Two in a series of books set in the "Age of Golden Sail" by Nathan Lowell 

Available in audio and print format, I found Half Share a little short (about an hour's less listening time from Quarter Share), but as enjoyable to listen to as Quarter Share.

Half Share sees Ishamel Horatio Wang move from the Mess Deck to Environmental and from a member of the crew to a ship mate. Where Quarter Share focused on Ishmael's adaptation to spacer life, Half Share delves into the deeper relationships of the various crew members and Ishmael's interactions with them. The conflict again remains entirely off screen - one decking and a character back story that makes Ish's seem rosey - while the main story focuses on Ishmael and his relationships with three of his ship mates.

As Lowell's gift of speech unfolded the story of Ish's post Henri experiences I came to realize I had been fundamentally wrong about one thing. This realization opened up a greater appreciation of the book. In my review of Quarter Share I said "about the simple life aboard a merchant ship plying the deep dark."

Thing is, Ishmael's story isn't about a simple trading ship. It's about an exceptional ship. No, it's not the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, able to make the Kessel run in 12 parsecs. No it's not an awe inspiring Super Star Destroyer, able to cast a shadow on passing planets. But it is exceptional. In a galaxy of run of the mill cargo haulers, the Lois McKendrick and her crew are one of the super stars. Being a super star of cargo isn't so very exciting, so it's easy to see how people could think Ishmael was having it too easy.

And Ishmael isn't a skill-less nobody. Again, he's no Luke Skywalker, hero of the Republic, or James Bond, super spy of her Majesty's government. But you take a boy and have him raised by a bright and individualistic literature professor and you end up with someone who's outlook on life is far different from your average eighteen-year old.

No, the Lois is something special and Ish proves to be the catalyst that makes her sing. Lowell masks a tale of "right place, right time" within a seemingly hum drum tale of merchant spacers. Which explains why I've already got Full Share queued up on my iPhone for listening. It certainly should be interesting to see how Ish handles the inevitable change to a new ship that must come in future stories.

Solid Story: It's not an epic tale of galactic warfare. But is a ripping good yarn about the life of a spacer and the adjustments one makes to live that lifestyle.

Slowed Down: While we know Ish will be jumping a test in the next book, you don't get as much of the "Ish can do no wrong." He's stymied by the more advanced environmental tests and you learn just how low a position Half Share is when he talks with his new boss and his orders boil down to "if it's anything but green, call me. Don't do anything else, just call."

Reading Style:  Nathan's reading voice is excellent. He's able to give each character a distinctive voice, so that he could omit the "X said" and you would still know who was speaking.

Laughter: Half Share continues in the humorous foot steps of Quarter Share. I found myself laughing in delightful peals at many of the stories comedic moments.

Size continuity: The omnipresent tablet is a schizophrenic object. Ishmael studies nearly the entire Spec 1 Environmental course on it and yet it was small enough to store in a ship suit pocket. When he was able to put it into his civilian sport coat, without it causing an issue, that's when I started to have some issues. Now, to Lowell's credit, this story was posted in 2007 so when he wrote it tablet computers were still the stuff of fiction. Unfortunately now it is something I noticed. Owning an iPhone and iPad I know how little detail work I can do on the phone vs the pad. From the descriptions, the tablet in the story couldn't be more than 3x5, which would make it a poor study tool, ship deck plan device and so on. Still, maybe it has a roll up screen or something else high tech.  Similar issues with the 3D welkie sculptures and how easily they get carried around pockets. I wear sports coats often and know how even a set of keys will ruin the line.

Time continuity:  This happened a couple of times, but the most glaring was During one of the major heart to heart talks. One of the characters goes out on a tour of the ship, something that takes 30-45 minutes. While she's gone, Ish and another lead character talk. There were no "time passes" moments but after only about ten minutes of conversation, Ish passes the first character just coming back from their tour of the ship. It worked plot wise for the conversation to happen then, but ti was till jarring. All in all a minor quibble.

The Cymru rating: 8/10
I'd expected to not rate this as high as Quarter Share. I think the author expected the same after my last review. Were I to rate Half Share on the same story style as Quarter Share, then it likely would have been only a 6/10. But Half Share was an entirely new story, new perspective, new goals, just the same fascinating characters.

Would I buy/listen to this author again?: Yes
I'm now on to book three in the series and I will most certainly explore other works by Nathan Lowell.

Until next time,
Writer, Explorer, Learner

Caveat Emptor- These blogs are written without the protection of an editor. I do proofread them, but I know I'm far from perfect. The ideas are sound and I'm still learning the foundational techniques. Thank you.

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