Nathan Lowell, © 2007, Ridan Publishing, May, 2010, trade paper – 1st of Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series – science fiction – cover art by Michael J. Sullivan
I first read a review of this on one of the many blogs I visit, and can’t now find which one. Regardless, the book was available in several formats: print, Kindle, podcast, and naturally I choose print being an old-fashioned ink-and-paper book kinda guy. What a find!
from the Ridan Publishing website’s profile:
“Nathan Lowell has been a writer for more than forty years, and first entered the literary world by podcasting his novels. His science fiction series, The Golden Age of the Solar Clipper grew from his long time fascination with space opera and his own experiences shipboard in the United States Coast Guard. Unlike most works which focus on a larger-than-life hero […] Nathan centers on the people behind the scenes–ordinary men and women trying to make a living in the depths of space. In his novels, there are no bug-eyed monsters, or galactic space battles, instead he paints a richly vivid and realistic world where the “hero” uses hard work and his own innate talents to improve his station and the lives of those of his community.”
World building, while mostly in the background, is persuasive. In defining “world building” I include the trading ship SC Lois McKendrick since a large part of the book takes place there or on orbital stations around planetary stops. But it’s not descriptions of the ship that impress, it’s Lowell’s ability to paint characters; three-dimensional ones I believed in and cared about from the beginning. Character is the biggest strength of a strong novel.
Synopsis (no spoilers): Ishmael Horatio Wang lives with his mother, a college professor, on the company-owned planet Neris. When his mother dies in a flitter crash, eighteen-year-old Ishmael must find a job with the planet company or leave the system, and NerisCo isn’t hiring. With credits running low, and prospects limited, his only choice is to enlist as a crew member on a deep space commercial freighter. Ishmael has never been off-planet before but soon finds himself part of an eclectic crew sailing a deep space solar clipper the SC Lois McKendrick, between the stars.
The title of this coming-of age novel comes from the bonus system used on these traders: according to their rating, each crew member gets a quarter, half or full share, with senior officers entitled to double shares and more. As a new crew member Ishmael is entitled to a quarter share.
After a chapter, I started feeling the similarities to some of Robert A. Heinlein’s “juvenile” books such as Space Cadet and Tunnel in the Sky. No, you won’t find the same level of action and adventure here, no exploding star cruisers or aliens with ray guns, this is the story of a young man finding his way in an environment completely alien to him: life aboard a solar clipper, a trader engaged in business, not war. In a situation like this, it’s his wits, not his skill with a blaster that matters.
As I continued to read, I came to the conclusion that I was enjoying this book as much or more than the Heinlein ones mentioned above. The more I think about it, the more comparisons I think of: Ishmael Wang is a lot like the young David Falkayn, Poul Anderson’s smart, clever trader character. Comparisons to Robert Heinlein and Poul Anderson are not inappropriate, and that’s darn good company. No, not everyone will like this as much as I did, that’s the way of things. But I was darned happy to have stumbled on it. Just for comparison, after reading Quarter Share, I read Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel. I liked Quarter Share better.
As mentioned earlier, all of the series is available in other media formats, but in print form, only this one so far. Ridan Publishing tells me the next book in the series, Half Share, will be in print Fall, 2010. They can’t put these in print fast enough for me. In my opinion they will become classics of the genre, and deservedly so.