(cover image from Amazon.com)
As I noted awhile back, I'm not even attempting to keep up with this blog, except as I encounter interesting content that's very easy to post (mostly video clips). In particular, I haven't been posting any book reviews lately - and I've been reading some very good books, too. Oh, well.
However, I just have to talk about New Dawn by Chris Hechtl. It's a self-published science fiction novel available for download at Amazon.com, the first in his Wandering Engineer series.
I stumbled across it at Amazon.com - at this point, I'm not sure how - and read the beginning free, on-line. It was such a train wreck that I just had to buy it (only $2.99) to see how bad it could really be. And I ended up reading the whole thing in one day. Heck, I might even buy the sequel, although this might be the worst book I've ever read. (I'll explain that in a minute.)
At the start of the book, a fleet admiral in the Federation navy - an engineer par excellence - has been in stasis for more than 700 years, when a ship finally discovers his escape pod and takes him aboard (shades of The Lost Fleet, although this is quite a different book).
The Federation has been obliterated, but so has their enemy, apparently. Both sides started out destroying inhabited planets and ended with causing stars to go nova, wiping out entire star systems (including Sol system, but many others as well). Now, 700 years later, there are people still alive on some planets and on a space station or two, but in most cases (on the planets, at least) they've lost their advanced technology.
The ship which picks him up was originally a Federation fleet repair and supply ship (ideal for an engineer, of course) which struck a mine during the war, then was holed by enemy action, abandoned by the crew (who destroyed the computer, per Federation rules), drifted as a derelict for 700 years while being struck by asteroids, and then was reclaimed as salvage by the woman who's now captain. She and the rest of the women on board use it as a trading vessel, flying between isolated star systems. (Somehow, after all that, it's still a working starship.)
Yes, I said women, because the crew are all women (except for the male doctor they kidnapped from one of the planets) - all young women, except for the elderly captain - all young women wearing sleazy outfits they got from a whorehouse (literally; their clothing was salvaged from a whorehouse) - most of them just... incredibly ignorant. None of them even know what a computer virus is, for example, and some can't even read.
Yet, somehow, these astoundingly ignorant young women are flying this salvaged bucket of holes from star system to star system as traders. The whole thing is a complete wreck, inside and out, and when the engineer is picked up (that's what they call him much of the time, just "the engineer"), they've taken fresh damage from a pirate - damage to their hyperdrive system, so they can't escape. (The first thing he does is fix that. No problem, right?)
Most of these women act like teenagers from a bad 1950's sitcom. Yeah, they wear porn outfits, but they giggle and blush at everything. I'm not kidding. They blush when talking about taking farm animals to another colony for genetic reasons - and it doesn't get any more specific than that, either. Just the phrase "limited gene pool" - in regards to livestock - makes them blush. Heck, they blush when they flush a toilet, too - not when they've been using it, but just to test that it's working again after repair! It's like a parody of a bad 1950's sitcom.
Even the man is like that, often enough. For example, when explaining how a straightjacket is worn, he hesitates before mentioning that one strap goes between a woman's... legs. (I was surprised he didn't say "limbs" instead of "legs," like a proper Victorian.) But the women are the worst. They giggle and blush whenever he's around - except for the few who want to kill him. It's just the dumbest thing.
I might point out, as a reviewer at Amazon.com did, that these people seem to use the equivalent of Windows XP in their advanced starships in the distant future. And with a screwdriver and a wrench, a good engineer can fix anything. (OK, admittedly, he's got replicators, once he fixes them.) But it's the ship full of young women in sleazy outfits, sighing over the wonderful man who knows everything (would you believe that he's also a black belt in martial arts? yeah, you expected that, huh?), that's really bizarre.
I had to buy this book just to find out if he was going to make himself king, with his own ready-made harem. But in fact, the book is much too prudish for that. There's no explicit, or even implicit, sex, except for some implied lesbian relationships. In fact, the heroic man seems to be made of stone, with all these giggling girls flirting with him. He's a young man, too - very young for an admiral, certainly. But he barely even notices their revealing mini-skirts, skimpy halter tops, and French maid outfits. For the most part, the sexual tension - such as it is - is entirely a matter of giggles and blushes (of which there are far too many).
But there's more. I would swear that no one actually read this book before putting it up for sale at Amazon.com. No one. Certainly no editor. But it wouldn't have required a professional editor to improve things, because I'm convinced that no English speaker could read this book without becoming exasperated at the abundant spelling errors in it.
For example, there's a morale officer on the ship, and frequent talk about the morale of the crew. But almost always, it's spelled "moral." (After awhile, that was like fingers on a blackboard for me.) "Quite" is invariably spelled "quiet." He uses "to" for "too" - and vice versa! He uses "their," "there," or "they're" just... randomly, it seems.
Those are just a few examples, because those kinds of errors are on every page of the book. Heck, I noticed more than one per sentence, sometimes. It's like the author dictated this to a speech-to-text converter but then never bothered to actually read it afterwards. And clearly, no one else did, either. Now, I don't mind occasional errors, especially in a self-published book. We all make mistakes, after all. But this could well be a parody of self-published books. It's pretty much all error.
The paragraph divisions seem to be made randomly, too - at least, during conversations. Frankly, it's a very good thing that the hero is pretty much the only man on the ship, because it would be even harder to know which person was talking without knowing who "he" had to mean. Honestly, it's just ridiculous. I've never seen a book so desperately in need of editing.
There are other problems, too, but they're hardly worth mentioning, given all this. I mean, yeah, the women are mostly indistinguishable - except for the elderly captain and the woman who wants to kill him, at least. All of the other young girls whom he trains to become skilled engineers just kind of blend together. You don't really need to keep their names straight (luckily for me), because it doesn't matter in the slightest.
But do you know what the biggest tragedy of this book is? It's a good story. The idea behind it caught my interest right away (of course, I always did like classic SF with an engineering outlook), and the story is actually entertaining. I wouldn't have read the whole thing, otherwise. Indeed, as I say, I'm tempted to buy the sequel, just to see what happens next.
That's why I said that this is the worst book I've ever read, because I did read it. If it hadn't been entertaining, I would have stopped long before finishing it. I've certainly done that with other books.
But this is also a story where I was either cringing or groaning or rolling my eyes at... well, everything. You can't read even one page without being completely exasperated at how juvenile it is or how poorly it's constructed. There's a very entertaining book in here - somewhere - but you pretty well have to imagine it yourself, because the author certainly hasn't given us that book.
I said that this was a train wreck, and that's exactly what if feels like. Reading it, I felt rather ghoulish, like I was an eager spectator at a train wreck, both fascinated and repelled at the same time. This is the most... astonishing book I've read in years, maybe ever. But it's not astonishing in a good way, unless you consider it to be astonishing that there's an entertaining story hidden in this mess, disguised almost beyond recognition.
As you can probably tell, I'm still astonished by the thing. This author seems to be a natural storyteller, but his book-writing skills are severely lacking. I hope he never reads this review - I'm not that cruel - but if he does, I want to encourage him to keep writing. Seriously. He's got talent. He just doesn't have an editor. And he desperately, desperately needs one.
Note: My other book reviews, such as they are, can be found here.