Scifi Shorts

“Sand Fall” by Neil Mosspark – A Well-Imagined Story with Fresh POV

51BZbJjHTNL SCORE: 2.55 out of 3

Sand Fall by NeilMosspark might be a bit of a controversial choice for me to review, but I promote indie authors who tell a story I like. Those who decide to read a book based on customer reviews on Amazon (and who doesn’t to some degree?), might take the mixed bag of reviews there as a reason to discount Sand Fall out of hand. But in my opinion, they’d be missing out. Before I discuss in detail the strengths and weaknesses of this book, though, let’s put it into a box, as we reviewers are so happy to do.

First of all, Sand Fall is science fiction – science fiction in the same way Enemy Mine is science fiction. This is NOT space opera. It is a very fun, imaginative take on surviving a hostile, foreign planet. There are a myriad of characters and points of view (more on this later), some of which are well-crafted and fresh. Some readers may find the setting a bit hackneyed. In many ways this is true. It is your prototypical, barely-hospitable, desert planet that so many sci-fi heroes must survive or escape. But Mosspark has woven in a thread of ancient and derelict technology (central to the plot) that lends his world an epic feel not usually achieved in science fiction.

The plot is linear and really doesn’t surprise. I was along for the ride, pretty sure of where I was going, but not knowing exactly HOW I was going to get there. It is this, and the unique eyes through which aspects of the story are told, which kept me reading.

Readability (2.0 out of 3.0)

  1. Typos – Numerous.
  2. Grammatical Errors – Plenty.
  3. Exposition – Straight-forward. There were a couple of noticeable breaks in point of view. I feel like the author may have been trying to force a bit too much into one book.
  4. Cliche phrasing – A bit, but let’s be honest. Sci-fi has a vocabulary and the author uses it.

Let me start off by saying Sand Fall would have scored much higher overall (closer to the maximum score of 3.0) had the copy been better. That said, outside of some flat dialogue, there was little, if anything, in Mosspark’s storytelling to distract me from the story itself, which presented me with enough uniqueness to pique my interest and hold it. The copy, however, was pretty bad. There were numerous typos, grammatical errors, and places where it felt as though the author was going to add something to the story but forgot, or perhaps it was there at one point and got deleted. Mosspark is aware of these shortcomings, and even promised readers he’d edit the book (or have someone else edit it) and upload a cleaner copy. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen that yet. The story is worth the effort. I hope he does this.

Story (3.0 out of 3.0)

When I started reading Sand Fall, I was immediately drawn in by the story. Crash landing, good guys trying to survive in an alien and very hostile environment, mindless aliens, etc. Many of the plotlines felt familiar, but not in a bad way. They were all notes that came together in a pleasant-sounding but sometimes-muddled chord. There are good humans, bad humans, mindless aliens with voracious appetites, mind control, androids and derelict technology. There is a subtle thread of romance, the spectre of oppressing loneliness, and a yearning to belong. These are universal things which, I feel, should resonate with every reader.

Comparisons? Hmmm…as I noted earlier, there is an echo, albeit very superficial, of Enemy Mine. There are also similarities to Pitch Black, starring Vin Diesel. But I think these comparisons are like saying chocolate and caramel are the same because they are both candy. Neil Mosspark’s story stands on its own, and I quite liked it.

Characterization (2.3 out of 3.0)

Sand Fall is at once both an event story and a character story. In that regard, it is quite an endeavor. Sci-fi readers are a fickle bunch. Many couldn’t care less about the characters, as long as the event in the story is compelling. Others prefer round, well-developed protagonists to characters that exist merely to advance a plot. Some enjoy both. I think there is something for all three kinds of readers in Sand Fall.

There are a handful of well-crafted characters, some of them non-human, that are very intriguing. Clearly, the author spent time developing these characters’ very distinct voices and points of view. However, I feel there were several characters that did not merit having a POV in the story, and overall, there were just too many characters. It felt as if the author felt compelled to jump from POV to POV in order to give each character the play he felt they deserved. In my opinion, this is the real structural weakness in this book (as opposed to the superficial typos and rough copy). Bottom line, when the author took the time to develop a character, he did a really good job of it. Unfortunately the effort felt uneven, so the score here suffers some.

Je ne se quoi – (2.8 out of 3.0)

As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, the best measure of a book is how compelling it is. Does it make you think? Does it give you pleasure when reading? Do you find yourself “binge-reading”? I gave up several hours of sweet sleep to finish this book, and I’d do it again. I think Mosspark is a talented storyteller, and will give up more sleep in order to read his other books.

– Doug Wallace

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Book Review: The Amber Project by J. N. Chaney (@JNChaney)

amberproject        SCORE: 2.5 out of 3.0

The Amber Project by J.N. Chaney might be classified as YA Science Fiction, but it feels like it leans towards the older segment of that audience. As a result, it should appeal to both YA and general SciFi fans alike. It is a relatively quick read with a very linear plot (except for an occasional meta-textual flashback in the form of data recordings). If I were to try and describe the book I might do well to mash a number of post-apocalyptic novels together with elements from Half Life (the video game) and Orson Card’s Ender’s Game. Don’t get me wrong, the comparison to Card is in formula, not effect. I’m not saying Chaney’s story isn’t compelling, though. But let’s be honest, few authors write young characters as well as Card. All that said, The Amber Project was a fun read, and despite some minor quibbles with it, I will likely read the sequels, for if he does nothing else (and he does many good things in the book), Chaney does make me want to see what happens to the story’s main character, Terry.

Readability (2.3 out of 3.0)

  1. Typos – Few, if any, that I can remember.
  2. Grammatical Errors – Rare.
  3. Exposition – Straight-forward. There were no noticeable breaks in point of view. The use of meta-textual exposition and dialogue, in the form of data recordings and conversations between the adults in the story (mostly) reminded me of the meta-textual conversations between the adults in Ender’s Game. The similarities don’t stop there. Ender has Graff, Terry has his own teacher/mentor figure, though the relationship is nowhere near as deep as Card’s characters. More on these similarities below.
  4. Cliche phrasing – One must remember that much of the dialogue is between teenagers. While some of said dialogue can be hackneyed, I’d like to believe it was the author’s attempt at imitating a teenager’s speech. Having said that, I can imagine the author has improved in this area in future books.

Outside of the flat dialogue, there was little, if anything, in Chaney’s writing to distract me from the storyline, which presented me with enough uniqueness to pique my interest and hold it.

Story (2.8 out of 3.0)

When I started reading Chaney’s book, I was immediately reminded of Ender’s Game. There are kids being taken from their families, raised by their teachers, and trained as soldiers. Chaney’s kids are bio-engineered, though, which is a pretty interesting element, and of course, central to his story. Variant is a brutal antagonist, but the reader doesn’t understand what it is until very late in the story, and it doesn’t seem to be an intended plot reveal. It would have made so much more of the story make sense when the reader finally does learn what it is (and you will immediately see some of the comparisons it draws with the video game mentioned above).

While this story is post-apocalyptic on the surface, it feels more like a speculative fiction piece. I won’t reveal too much, but it is definitely different from all those other stories. And what makes it so different is the interesting and unique event that destroyed the world, and against which the protagonists struggle. It is part “event” story, part “world-building” story. As an “event” story, its strengths are found in exactly that, the event (which I shall not reveal here). As a “world-building” story, it’s strength are in the invention of a new world mutated by Variant. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, though I wasn’t quite as fond of the narrative elements focusing on the Mothers, a social and professional class of women in the underground settlement the protagonists are from.

Characterization (2.2 out of 3.0)

Most “event” stories suffer from poor characterization, and this is an area in which I feel Chaney’s story could be improved. At the end of the story, I really only cared about one character: Terry. If the others had been wiped out by some unexplained means, I wouldn’t have blinked twice. Terry is really the only memorable character, and then, only because he is experiencing an intriguing physical change and I want to see what that really is (though I have some ideas, I am excited to learn it as the author reveals it.)

POV is never broken in Chaney’s book, but his POV is never very deep, and the internal dialogue of his main characters is often predictable and formulaic. That said, I believe this was the author’s first book. I’m sure that aspect will improve in his next ventures. When I identified the book as an “event” book, I didn’t expect a lot of emphasis on the characters, as they are often just vehicles for the plot in that kind of story. But I have been surprised. Unfortunately this one was not one of those times.

Je ne se quoi – (2.7 out of 3.0)

The best measure of a book is how compelling it is. Does it make you think? Does it give you pleasure when reading? Do you find yourself “binge-reading”? I usually consume 3-4 books at a time. The biggest endorsement I can give for Chaney’s book is that I found myself skimping on reading time with those other titles so I could finish The Amber Project. Now I have to find time to read the sequels. Chances are I won’t have time. But chances are, I’ll make time.

– Doug Wallace