BLUF: A fast-paced and entertaining sci-fi read.
This past weekend, I met an intelligent and articulate author, Shannon Eichorn, at the Confluence convention in Pittsburgh, PA. She had released a debut novel “Rights of Use,” which involved alien abductions, a secret and underfunded Air Force unit, and alien/human symbiotic relationships. I’ll say right up front that the alien abduction sub-genre usually isn’t my thing, but something about her premise intrigued me.
My reading preferences are eclectic, and it’s difficult to say which books I’ll select for my library. I chose this author’s book for a reason I can’t put a finger on. Maybe it was the whole underfunded Air Force unit thing; I can easily picture the scenario she described. One scene early on in the novel sold me on her work and kept me flipping pages.
I don’t think I’m putting any spoilers out there by describing the atmosphere at the remote Air Force base where a distraught father and politician landed to be read-in to the project.
The oh-so-secret base was in the middle of nowhere, as one would expect, but it was a picture of disrepair and neglect. It was a dead-end for careers, complete with a seedy dayroom filled with taped-together furniture, cheesy decorations, and Hollywood posters depicting aliens.
Anyone who has worked for Uncle Sam would recognize such a space. Lack of funding, penny-pinching, and careless use by government employees permeated her description. I thought it was authentic to a tee, and curiously enough, the dayroom setting in this “secret and powerful” base shot me ahead into the narrative.
The only things missing in her description were the scent of Pine-Sol, a bored enlisted trooper watching some crappy movie on an old TV, and a pot of vile coffee brewing in a stinky corner.
I thought this scene was wonderful.
It took me a little while to get into her world-building; at first, there was some confusion. It was OK, though, because she resolved my questions as I plowed through the narrative. This is as it should be.
Something I noticed as I read was that I kept skipping over words to SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. This is always a good sign for me; the author has engaged me in the given work.
Another thing I’d like to point out.
Ms. Eichorn’s debut novel is a far better effort than my own. Why do I say this?
Well, I regard “In the Valley” as a flawed work in a few regards. One of its problems is a simple lack of planning, and “Rights of Use” does not suffer from this. There is a clear structure, character development, midpoint, and acceleration to the finish. “In the Valley,” as many of you are aware, lacked some of these critical story beats.
My first book was a study in “hold onto my beer and watch this,” it was written on a whim while I proceeded through the US Army Medical Board. Later books in the series had an outline and a structure, but the damage was done with Number One. Readers who made it through “In the Valley” to continue to the rest of the series have my appreciation and respect. Debut novels are NOT easy.
This author’s book shows the signs of careful planning and execution, which I appreciate.
I have some minor quibbles, but they are just that, minor. At first, her “alien” words took some getting used to, but this is a standard tactic in sci-fi novels, and she didn’t overdo it. Some of the military bits weren’t entirely as I would have written them, but hey, my background and hers are wildly different. Also, a few sections required a bit of suspension of disbelief, but this is also standard sci-fi. If everything has to be hyper-realistic, I suggest you read a different book.
Me? I was content to sit back and enjoy an entertaining yarn, well-told.
Also, it turned out that some of the too-lucky escapes and surprising discoveries were… by design. I will say nothing further, as I don’t do spoilers.
If you are interested in Shannon Eichorn’s debut novel, I’d say it’s definitely worth a read. This goes doubly so with a first book and series kick-off. Very impressive.
I give it a solid four and a half stars.