Friday, June 22, 2007

The Outback Stars - Review

The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald

A quick summary stolen from back cover: Um, none to steal. Just lots of blurbage.

How I’d sum it up to another reader: Well, you see…there’s this woman named Jodenny who was the only survivor of a horrible spaceship crash. Despite the tragedy, she’s itching to get back into space and lands a job in the Underway Stores department on the Aral Sea. Not the most ideal, but that’s the military for yah. There, she meets a young man with a dark past. Ooooh, cue sinuous music. No really, cue it. Anyways, soon a romance rises between the two even though fraternizing with different ranks is a no-no and a sure-fire way to ruin one’s career. As their unrequited love deepens, the two of them stumble upon an ancient piece of alien technology and an undermining plot aboard their own ship. Betrayal, sex, inventory reports galore…the book certainly isn’t your typical battlefield amongst the stars, but it sure is a whole lot of fun.

The cover sez and shows: A woman armed to the teeth in +15 Gold/-5 Mobility space armor floating in a portal of rainbow swirls. Below, tickling at her toes, are alien talons. And squiggling tentacles. I think…they could be roads. An expression of muted concentration shows who is and who isn’t ticklish these days.

Number of dragons, wizards, and reluctant farmer boys: Zero dragons, zero wizards, but a farm does show up later on planetside. There is, however, a bonus: one gecko.

Hardest name to pronounce in my head: Ishikawa.

Best part: The heroes of The Outback Stars aren’t high-powered pilots or trained alien-fighting marines. They deal with paperwork, relationships, and keeping a tidy uniform. Many of them like playing games on their gibs, both off- and on-duty, and the politics that intertwine with everyday relationships made for absorbing drama. I also enjoyed the book’s pace, which never hit a dull stride.

Worst part: I had some problems with the ending, and was hoping for some more closure on a couple of subplots. Obviously, not everything is over as a sequel is soon to follow (and I hope we learn just what happened to a certain someone that betrayed another certain someone in a certain time of need). Also, at times the romance between hard-headed Myell and no-crap Jodenny felt a little forced.

Random thoughts and theories: The alien technology? It’s neat stuff and I wished there was more of it in the book. In truth, the book isn’t all about that. It’s about people and the choices they make despite what is happening around them. Some science tricks factor into the plot, but for the most part, it’s left untouched.

If said book were a ride at a Disney theme park: It would most certainly be Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or as it’s called in my family—the Runaway Railroad. Like the ride, The Outback Stars bursts out of its holding zone. It does some quick drops and turns before slowing down, clanking this way and that, building, building, and climbing higher and higher until it reaches its climax and takes the reader for one last fast-paced whirl around the track.

If in school its grade would be: A-

Come on, write us a haiku:
On Australian ships
Love floats in zero-g, yes
The gecko is cool

Overall, y’all: It’s an entertaining read that never forgets to be serious at the right times. Though the on/off love affair between Jodenny and Myell isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but others might be all about the romance. By the third half of the book I was speeding through it. There are a lot of little plots surrounding the whopper, and with a huge assortment of crew members there’s always something going on that’s worth speculating. Most compelling of The Outback Stars is the system of seniority and command on the spaceships—much like as in Battlestar Galactica—and with McDonald’s history one can see the how and why of its sincerity. Definitely pick this one up.

Books I might or might not compare to: Redliners by David Drake, With the Lightnings by David Drake, Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold, and Field of Dishonor by David Weber

Some linkage: Check out Sandra McDonald's web page and The Outback Stars web page (where you can find some comics done by moi).

No comments: