Normally I don’t do book reviews. This is not because I don’t read, but because I read everything. Though most of my blog followers are odd ducks (this is said in the most appreciative way possible, because it takes one) I don’t think even you would stand still for a revolving selection of books, from mystery to regency romance, (I have yet to venture into the other kinds. Baby steps) to sf, to history or popular science, some new, some re-reads, most with the notation “Meh, it was okay.”
Most books I read are in fact okay. At least I pick them carefully enough to get that. Very few excite a “wow” and even fewer for me to want to re-read sometime. And even fewer do I wish to write more than one line about. (Mind you, if you’re all extremely curious, I’m willing to post – when I remember – a series of “this week I read” probably on Saturday. I don’t know why you’d be curious, though. It’s kind of like listing what I had for breakfast.)
Anyway, this brings us, sideways and backwards (through gorse bushes) to Ric Locke’s book Temporary Duty.
I first became aware of it through a mention in Instapundit and I emailed Ric — I don’t even remember why. He sent me his book. I read it, thought “wow,” and set it aside.
Then I met Ric at Fencon, and he asked me for a blurb for TD. At which point I thought I might as well do a review. Only I got sick and hit my head and… life has been interesting. So – here’s the review which would fall under “pimping my friends” and might if I meet Ric a few more times. Right now, we’re just friendly acquaintances.
Ric Locke’s Temporary Duty is science fiction for the soul. Not that it’s in the slightest bit spiritual or about the supernatural.
It is about the first contact between an interstellar-faring species and humanity. The humans who get contacted are officialdom and eventually two low-ranking military men get assigned to serve in the alien ship, to prepare the ship for the detachment of troops who will go with the aliens on a voyage. (Here you must excuse me for using – I’m sure – all the wrong terms. I’m having trouble accessing notes on my kindle, and the reason I never write anything even vaguely military is that I make a salad of official designations.)
Through an intentional bureaucratic trick, the two end up staying aboard and visiting other worlds with the traders.
This is the barest of schematics for the novel, but Ric actually has a few surprises build in there that I don’t wish to give away. We’ll just say that reading the novel brought back the sense of wonder I thought had vanished from science fiction. It made me feel about 12 or maybe 13, in a good way. I felt the same wonder and amazement I used to feel while reading The Adventures of Captain Morgan.
To an extent, it is because it’s the same type of book. It taps into the “young man makes good” mythos going all the way to Babylonian legends.
In another way it’s a serious book of social analysis and critique, all of it wrapped in a bang up adventure. And I liked the way his aliens answered pervasive story telling like Star Trek. Let’s just say there is a reason that Temporary Duty is one of the finalists for the Prometheus Award.
All that said, let me say I know why it wasn’t bought by one of the major houses. The beginning is pure wonder and takes time to develop our understanding of the world, as the main characters learn the language, etc. A lot of the golden-age SF worked that way. The sense of wonder was built slowly, by layers, while the characters discovered things they didn’t know about themselves and their environment.
These days, story telling requires a gun held to the head of the character in the first page – metaphorically if not realistically. There has to be something hanging over your head. Or, of course, it has to be a long disquisition on post modern philosophy with the barest trappings of fiction. Thank heavens, Ric’s story is neither of these. And thank heavens we have indie publishing which allowed this story to be published and allowed me to read it.
Now, kindly, go and buy his book, so that he’ll feel inspired to write the second one. You see, he left a lot of puzzling hints, including an implication humans came from the stars (made me feel about 12 and reading Space Engineers) and I want him to write more about that universe and explain at least some of it.
So, go get it. You won’t regret it.