Starman’s Saga is a self-published book, which I receive via NetGalley courtesy of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).
This book held a lot of promise in the early stages but fell a little flat overall, however, it was still enjoyable in large sections.
I really enjoyed the first 20-25% of the book. Some of the conversations could have been more refined, but Alexander did a good job of giving us an insight into who Lief Grettison is. We learn about his family and upbringing, attitude, skills, military history—including probable PTSD, relationships and more. We’re also informed about the Troubles: US, Russia and China taking the world to the brink of an apocalypse—and the mission to explore a new world, including the politicking around it.
It’s around the quarter mark where an event happens, and an inquest follows. The inquest is a chapter that felt too long and drawn out for me. In turn, it affected the pace of the book and my mood towards it for the next few chapters. Around the 33% mark, the book gets back on track as the journey truly begins
In those early stages of the book, some of the worldbuilding is interesting but limited. Civilisation doesn’t appear to have advanced that much given the time that has passed–it’s 2069. However, I did find some aspects quite interesting. Everyone had a chip and wore glasses—the glasses display information about the world, such as who the person is you are talking to; there’s also the community and news feeds you can be constantly connected to. As you may predict there are self-driving cars and robots, such as those who can carry out ship maintenance and waiter-bots. None of this is truly inventive though, we have robots now who do all kinds of things and a few years ago, I watched a documentary where a faculty at a university developed glasses that could ID people. Okay, not as advanced as in the book, but they could trawl social media and a database of images to pull up information on somebody.
The journey to the planet, time on the planet and journey back is fraught with incidents and challenges that crew must overcome, as you’d expect and Lief is always at the centre of those. Alexander did a good job with much of this, such as the sequence of events and some crew interactions, but the application was a little off. The new world, which the crew named High Noon, is tidally locked, meaning the side of High Noon the crew landed on never sees night—it always faces the Sun. Parts of the world are interesting and get your imagination going. Plantlife appears black to our eyes as it absorbs light from a different part of the spectrum to that on Earth. There are also a variety of animal species that are encountered during the crew’s stay on High Noon. I felt there was a lack of creativity here too. Almost, all animals that were encountered were described as having some type of snake-like feature. But you can use your imagination and focus on other aspects of the description to paint a picture.
A few other minor issues I had with the book were chapter 38, which, as with the inquest chapter, felt too long, and the use of parentheses at times when they were unnecessary. For me, parentheses break up the flow of reading and in the book they stopped me flat several times, questions why they were there. The text could have been worked into the sentence, or the use of an em dash would have been more appropriate so as to not break up the flow of reading. However, what lets the book down most was believability and some character development.
We are rearming. The PLA Air Force must rebuild. The Russians are, the Americans are. Both will look to finish what they started…Yong Yong
Regarding fleshing characters out, Alexander didn’t take enough opportunities for crew members to have discussions, which you’d expect on such a venture. One example, where this was executed well was later in the book when several members were trekking through the terrain over the course of several days. There was a point where Lief had a conversation with Tadashi Ishihara, which focused on a small part of Japanese history and gave a real insight into the mind of Ishihara. It was only a short conversation, but it was enough; this was missing for a lot of the characters.
Believability was a bigger issue for me. There were small incidents, like Lief, a trained, experience and decorated soldier wasting ammunition for no good reason, when you know he would simply use a triple-burst shot, which I can generally look past, but the pettiness of crew members was something I couldn’t buy into, and it was constant. The crew is made up of elite scientists. People who are highly intelligent and have spent their careers analysing and solving problems, conducting research and working with others, yet they are always at each other’s throats, and almost always due to nationally. It wore thin quickly. Alexander would have been far better off fleshing out several of the scientists and providing reasons why some did not like each other—reasons not related to nationality. This would have made outbursts believable and frayed and strained relationships more understandable and relatable, while also solving the issue of fleshing out some of the characters.
The book ended in an interesting way. The last 10% or so explored the psychological impact such a journey and subsequent return could have on crew members. The journey, in Earth time, took 28 years, but the crew themselves barely aged, having spent much time in hib tanks. They returned to a world still young, yet old: out of touch and under-skilled having missed out on 28 years of advancement in their academic fields. This did get my brain going with my own questions, thoughts and opinions on how I may react in the same circumstance, as did other sections of the book.
Overall, if you can look past some of the issues I’ve raised, or they are not things that would bother you, you’ll really enjoy this book. I still enjoyed it, but overall, I was disappointed that it didn’t live up to its potential. With a little more creativity in places—technology and animal species—and more time dedicated to fleshing out the scientists to provide better reasons for animosity among the crew, this could have been a 4* read.