Wednesday, April 22, 2009

REVIEW: The End of Winter

Title: The End of Winter
Author: Terry Savage
Genre: Science Fiction
Price: $14.95
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-59858-866-6
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I requested Terry Savage’s book The End of Winter based on him being mentioned on a blog. He very generously sent me a copy, and I think this will be his first review.

The End of Winter is set in the year 2808 AD. Mankind has developed faster-than-light travel, and become the dominant military and political power in an area at least 100 light years across. As the novel opens, Commander Curt Jackson of the Earth Space Force (ESF) is leading a battle involving several hundred 2-man ships. The battle is not going that well for the ESF, or at least for Commander Jackson, as his ship is shot up and his gunner is dead. Then an unidentified and very large ship arrives and turns the tide for Earth, although both the unidentified ship and Jackson’s vessel end up crash-landing on a convenient planet.

Beginning writers are frequently given advice in the form of dictums. “Stories should start ‘in medias res’ (in the middle of things)” or “avoid infodumps.” Savage took both of those dictums to heart, but in my view too much so. This makes for a confusing narrative.

For example, the unidentified ship is a warship of an ancient galactic empire which collapsed 12,000 years ago after an invasion from another galaxy. However, it takes us nearly half the book to find this out. Now, if the book was structurally a mystery that would make sense, but Jackson, our lead character, apparently already knows most of this. Since he knows and (correctly) acts on knowledge that the reader doesn’t have, it makes for a confusing book. A simple internal dialog along the lines of “that strange ship can’t possibly be an Ancient Imperial” followed by a brief summary of the legends and rumors would do wonders for clarity.

Regarding the space battle and the dead gunner, both events seem important, but quickly fade. Jackson is fighting “renegades,” and apparently they are a problem, able to outnumber the ESF by 10 to 1, but after the first chapter we never see or hear of them again. Perhaps they are affiliated with some of the other bad guys in the book, but if so the connection is never drawn.

Beginning writers (and not-so-beginning ones like Yours Truly) sometimes fall into the trap of “telling instead of showing.” Now, detailing every trivial step of a fictional character’s life is overkill. Saying, for example, “Joe went out to buy a newspaper,” can be perfectly acceptable, unless the act of getting the paper is critical to the story.

In The End of Winter, there is a critical battle between the Ancient ship and a pirate vessel armed with an unusual weapon capable of destroying a warship with a single shot. Yet, instead of showing us the fear of the crew, outlining the tactics uses of their weapons, we get lines like “[the pilot] put on a show the like none of them had ever seen before.” Unfortunately, this is not an unusual occurrence.

The End of Winter has potential to be a good book. As written, it reads more like an outline for a multi-book series than as a novel.


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