Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Gabriel's Redemption - Steve Umstead

    2011; 277 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Military Science Fiction; Action-Intrigue.  Book 1 of the Evan Gabriel Trilogy.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    It’s 2176 AD, and Evan Gabriel has been drummed out of the NAF Navy, the fall guy for a bungled operation on Eden.  Now he’s being offered a full restoration of rank and honor – all he has to do is carry out one extremely sensitive black-ops mission.

    The mission seems noble enough – destroy an illicit drug-manufacturing operation on an alien planet.  But since the same higher-ups who set him up before are now orchestrating this endeavor, something smells fishy.

    But the rewards – both to Gabriel personally and to society in general – are worth the risk.  And if a spanner gets thrown into the works, it will just have to be dealt with.

What’s To Like...
   Steve Umstead builds three fascinating worlds for the reader.  There’s “post Dark Days” Earth (it was hit by an asteroid); Mars (once the cat’s meow, but now a backwater . . .er. . .  backdust hole-in-the-ground); and Poliahu (an ice-bound, mineral-rich planet a couple wormholes away).

    Amazon labels this “Military Science Fiction”, and that seems appropriate.  It also has some “hard Science Fiction” tendencies, but Umstead avoids getting overly technical (think Tom Clancy) and overly scientific (think James Hogan).

    The pace is crisp, and there’s plenty of action and intrigue.  The book is a standalone, despite being part of a series.  There are enough plot twists to keep your attention, and some nice, subtle touches, such as naming one of the cities on Mars “Bradbury”.  There are a couple snippets of Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, and those are always a plus with me.

    The characters are developed nicely, at least the good guys.  Some of them don’t make it to the end of the book, but probably not the ones you'd predict.  The baddies are a tad stereotypical, yet comprise a formidable and resourceful foe for our heroes.

    “Son, is there a problem?”
    “No, sir, not really, uh,” the tech stammered.  “It’s just that, well, one of my subordinates said he saw a meteor come down nearby an hour ago.  I mean, it’s probably nothing,” he said, shrugging.  “And he was out late last night, so. . .”
    “Where?” the chairman asked, cutting him off.
    “Where?  Uh, well I guess he was playing cards at Rita’s, where everyone goes late at night.  It’s the place near. . .”
    “No,” the chairman said sharply.  “Where did he see the meteor come down?”  (loc. 1745)

    They stood just over four feet tall, bipedal, reminding Takahashi of a light-haired gorilla, but thinner, almost emaciated.  He chalked that up to the lack of natural resources and food on the frozen planet.  It was a wonder anything used to temperate climates could have survived as long as they had.  Then again, he thought, millions of them hadn’t.  (loc. 2562)

Kindle Details...
    Gabriel’s Redemption sells for $3.49 at Amazon.  The other two books in the trilogy, Gabriel’s Return and Gabriel’s Revenge, are also available and sell for $3.99.  There is also a short (91 pages) “prequel”, Gabriel : Zero Point, which is free for the Kindle, but frankly, you don’t need to read it to enjoy this book.

“Eden again, it all goes back to Eden.” (loc. 362)
    The storytelling style is unique in that you’re told fairly early the “what” and “who” of the intrigue.  The fun then becomes trying to figure out the “how”.  It’s weird, but it works.

    The quibbles are few.  Steve Umstead supplies a helpful timeline, but puts it in the back of the book.  Yes, it’s listed and linked-to in the Table of Contents, but Kindle readers generally just open to the first page of Chapter One, so most (including me) will be unaware it’s there.  Why not put it as a quasi-prologue?

    The other quibble is the stereotyping of a fat person as a vile and disgusting character.  Maybe that’s a literary device (he’s obese, so we don’t have to explain that he’s repulsive), but just once I’d like to meet a character who can’t keep food and drink out of his hands, yet who nevertheless saves the day.

    But these are motes of dust on an otherwise shining piece of Science Fiction.  I found Gabriel's Redemption delightfully captivating, and look forward to the rest of the books in the series.  8½ Stars.

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