Monday, 12 May 2014

Review: Derelict

Derelict by L.J. Cohen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first encounters with science fiction as a pre-teen were the classic space operas of Andre Norton, including the Solar Queen books, about a young man's adventures on an interstellar trader. In my teenage years, I enjoyed Harry Harrison and Robert Heinlein's space operas, and I still love a good space opera - I'm a huge Vorkosigan fan.

This is a good space opera. It has the classic elements: resourceful young people facing danger that might be beyond their resourcefulness, a technological emergency, pulling together to solve the problem, a contained environment. It has more than that, though. Each of the characters is beautifully set up with a set of excellent reasons to be angry and distrustful and to want to escape. And then they're thrust into a situation where they need to calm down, team up and work on getting back home.

All five of the young characters get to be viewpoint characters, so we get to see inside their heads and understand why they act the way they do. Nobody acts out of character, and the ways in which they change are organic and believable. The plot fits together like a watch, with no excess parts, and the challenges they face include realistic injuries. The end, while giving a sense of hopefulness, isn't all neatly tied up in a bow for all the characters, which I liked.

I have a special fondness for Derelict, because it was seeing Chris Howard's amazing cover for it that led me to ask him to do my book covers (one of my better decisions). I was also a beta reader on a much rougher earlier version. This version has been tightened up a lot, the more obviously-cribbed-from-Star-Trek elements rewritten and some (though not all) of the more obvious technobabble problems and science problems fixed. In the version I just read, there are a number of missed copy edits and a few points at which it's not immediately clear who's speaking, but I've sent the author some notes and hopefully she will fix those before publication. I know her on Google+, if that's not already obvious; we've beta-read for each other, and I received a copy from her at no charge for purposes of review.

I give four stars to any book I enjoy that isn't also a triumph of beautiful writing and/or a profound reflection on the human condition. While Derelict doesn't, by that definition, reach the five-star level (nor is it aiming to), on my subscale within four stars, where 0 is "just above mediocre" and 9 is "just below amazing", I'd have to put it at least at a 7, knocking confidently on the door of 8.

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