Reviewer Tom Pope: Tom is a writing teacher and fiction coach who strives to spark the imagination. As a teacher, he works with tutoring services to help students organize essays and understand literary elements like the point of view. As a fiction coach, he aids authors to develop characters, brainstorm conflict pacing and design worldbuilding.
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Author: S. H. Jucha
Who is the Enemy?
Beams from a sleek silver ship could pound the protagonist Admiral Alex Racine as he strives to protect two huge city ships of a quarter of a million refugees in S. H. Jucha’s new novel of the Silver Ships science fiction series. But Racine withholds his potential for destroying the enemy because he wonders whether they might be forced into an action by a stronger foe.
Readers can join the Admiral as he struggles with a way to communicate with the enemy, then find a strange common ground that could offer new tech to transform his refugees into a new society.
Jucha fills the pages with a bright hope beyond the fears of many science fiction (SF) dystopia fans. Racine’s acceptance of his mate’s abilities in using implants allows Jucha to explore how two parts of humanity can bring different resources to aid each other.
Jucha poses social comments about how to communicate when barriers hit. What happens when leaders treat others with empowerment rather than dictatorial approaches? And Jucha makes SF fans think of images from the arbitration skills shown by the Enterprise’s Captain Picard.
Readers can find thrills in watching how three societies interact. The Admiral faces a new Earth (New Terra) that exists as less rigid than the Méridien Confederation. He also has to find roles for the Méridien AIs (SADEs) who control the ships in his flotilla, and give humans fast predicting abilities.
Readers become immersed in problem solving to see how a tech can transform a planet to make the place a home. How can a new society of a blend of cultures find a place for the once limited SADEs who wish to have more independence? The AIs self improvement abilities have them ask questions similar to those posed by AIs from Isaac Asimov and Gene Roddenberry. Readers might even envision DATA’s questioning about humanity or the Doctor in “Voyager” asking about being more recognized as an equal citizen.
But while readers can savor those thrills from the novel, they might feel frustrations from Jucha’s lack of character development, descriptions of key events, and thinking through certain conflicts.
A trademark of character development is the torment a character faces with a personal flaw and readers try to see whether the character overcomes the flaw or succumbs. Admiral Racine seems perfect from the start. Jucha may have shown a development throughout the series, but aspects of a flaw and struggle should occur independently within each novel. Racine’s woman mentions her development, but readers can’t see it unless they read previous novels in the series. The most visible image of dealing with a flaw comes from the SADEs Julien and Muller who adapt their knowledge of human interactions and in Mutter’s case, even seek to become mobile.
Jucha could describe key moments better. Readers might feel lost in the beginning of the novel as Racine’s ship approaches the new Earth planet and key leaders are asking questions about what they can expect.
However, readers have no sense of what is in that conference room, what the ship looks like, or even the body language of the people.
Much occurs in the first couple of pages by hearing about the past background and the ships. But readers can’t see those things. Readers could have been shown the size of the fleet as the Admiral glides past the various ships in the shuttle while discussing the problems with his staff.
Of course Jucha might have displayed key visuals in previous novels. But as Walter Jon Williams has shown in the “Dread Empire’s Fall,” readers can be brought into the story with a full display of where they are from characters’ actions so that the reader sees what is happening. He doesn’t rely on past novels to supply the details. No amount of back story comes in Piers Anthony’s “Politician” without some portrayal of body language. Jucha does describe in great detail during parts of the story, however, in one example, when Racine uses a beam to capture a Silver Ship, part of the process is explained after the event rather than as it happens.
Jucha focuses so much on the wonderful questions he poses that the full implications of social conflict is not examined. When Racine lands on New Terra, he is thwarted by an enemy President as the President has business interests that could suffer from Racine. When Racine is met by the security forces, the leader stands down in deference to the Admiral. That seems unlikely since any security force has a culture that supports the position of the agency. When Racine managed to have media give details about the corruption, he places his sister to interview him and the message reaches the public. New Terra suffers from being world of business interests. When the president can even bribe special ops to launch a rescue when he is arrested, it seems unlikely he would allow Racine’s broadcast.
A potential for a conflict within the Silver Ship beings is missed by Jucha. Jucha unfolds a wonderful series of pages showing how two cultures try to find a way to communicate. Yet throughout the process, the reader might wonder whether all of the other Silver Ship beings are in agreement or what is their reaction to the attempts by Racine. Jucha does use the point of view of the beings near the end of the story and readers obtain a unique view of the thought patterns. But why not use their point of view earlier?
Despite several shortcomings, Jucha’s work drives home the quest for understanding others and ourselves as we explore ethics and the unknown. He shows the world of SF revolves not around the tool of tech, but how the tech is used by communities of people. Jucha follows in the traditions of Frank Herbert, and Gene Roddenberry who stand on one planet and look beyond to the next.