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The Outback Stars Kindle Edition
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But once I got past that, I discovered two things: I really liked the protagonist, Jodenny. She's that rarest of female characters in SF -- intelligent but not a genius, pretty but not a sexbomb, competent and level-headed and funny. In short, a normal human woman. And as Jodenny dealt with an increasingly tangled conspiracy web and her inappropriate feelings for one of her subordinates, I more than liked her; I *cared*.
The other thing I realized was, military SF is actually kind of interesting when it's not all about the captain or the admiral or the guy with the big gun. Jodenny's "office politics", her personnel issues (like who's sleeping on the job), her effort to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder while still trying to have a career -- I could really identify with all of this, even though it took place on an Australian spaceship that travels through an alien wormhole. It's plainly military SF, but so real-world and human that it feels like something very different. And better, IMO.
So definitely a recommend. =)
I hope this is just the first in a long series.
"The Outback Stars" has interesting, well-constructed characters; an intriguing plot with some nice twists and turns; alternate POVs that worked well to tell the story; and great pacing, especially once the author offers a few really nifty reveals. Also, while I'm no military expert, the military aspect of the novel felt very realistic to me. The author's personal experience with the military serve her, and the reader, well here.
This book is definitely worth a read.
The crew of the Aral Sea seems a very realistic portrayal of sailors/ spacefarers. Unlike Star Trek, on McDonald's ship they can't replicate whatever it is they want. When you want a uniform, a machine part or food it is Underway Stores that must store, find and inventory it.
The Aral Sea (a nod to the Vorkosigan saga only in my mind-- these ships are named after environmental disasters) is an unhappy ship and Jodenny is assigned the unhappiest department: Underway Stores, but that's where Terry works. She's an officer and he's enlisted, but that doesn't stop the attraction they have for each other. The mystery of why the ship is so very unhappy is part of what Jodenny & Terry must solve-- and that's terrific, and, well, Bujold-like.
What I also like is that after ~400 pages, I don't know everything about this universe. Why is nearly everybody Australian -- or their forbearers are? Why are so few characters born on Earth? Why did the aliens give this technology and leave? It means that Sandra has many more stories in this series to tell!
Like Bujold's Vorkosigan series in some ways, both are about military & quasi- military ships. Jodenny and Terry would get on very well in the Dendarii Mercenaries. Actually, though, it's more like Tanya Huff's Valor books, with Sergeant Torin Kerr. I'm sure Kerr'd like Terry, but Jodenny... (Kerr, like Terry is enlisted and spends much of her time protecting officers. Unlike Terry, Torin is a warrior.)
Unlike Star Trek and unlike the Vorkosigan series, this isn't about feats of derring do and military prowess. It's about the guys in the red shirts that make the ship go and whose names we never hear. People who are just as courageous, in their way, as Captain Kirk and Miles Vorkosigan, maybe moreso.
"I saw something," Jodenny whispered.
Neither of them moved to investigate. Being in Team Space had never demanded much bravery, Myell knew. It required endurance of petty annoyances and mammoth wastes of time, and the discipline of listening to superiors talk of nonsense and trivia, and the ability to think one way and act another, for days and months and years at a time. He had been truly scared only a few times in his military career-- once while doing firefighting training in boot camp, another when Chiba's men entereted his Security cell duing the Ford affair - but all in all, he could safely say he had never been asked to chase something down in the icy darkness, something only his lieutenant thought she saw.
"There's nothing there," he said.
But every now and then, something will catch my eye. That what was literally happening with Sandra McDonald's book, The Outback Stars. The cover art, I found, was pretty good, and I got taken in. And the premise looked interesting enough, looking to draw on Australia and the South Pacific for inspiration, rather than the usual American/Russian/European culture that seems to be the norm for most space opera.
Lieutenant Jodenny Scott is dying of boredom on the planet of Kookaburra, waiting for a new assignment on another starship traveling the Alcheringa. She's survived a terrorist attack on her previous ship, and it turned her into a genuine hero. It's not something she's too happy about, she'd rather be working, and when the opportunity arises to leave the planet on the Aral Sea, she leaps at it.
But her new assignment is anything but peachy. Underway Stores -- think quartermasters -- supplies everything from uniforms to supplies and maintaining the DNGO's that do the fetch-and-carry chores. And it's a department full of misfits, from a habitually sick crewman, attitude problems, slackers, and a gang of pilferers that use violence to back up their claims. It's not exactly what she was looking for. But Lt. Scott sets to with a will, and struggles not just to enforce her will on some very reluctant crewmen, but also to make her own life bearable.
One of the unlucky crewmen that she's saddled with is Terry Myell, a sargeant that is good with repairing the dingos, but has a perpetual black cloud looming over him. A fellow crewmate has brought a charge against him, one that could get him booted out of Team Space. And that's something that Myell doesn't want.
For both of these characters, they've got quite a few personal issues to work out. Both have nightmares, and for good reason, and the reader knows that at some point in the story, not only are they going to be confronted with those problems, but also with each other. Especially when they start to find out the real reason for what happened on the Yangtze...
There's some problems with this story, an interesting blend of space opera and military thriller. While I certainly applaud the author's worldbuilding in creating the W and A, and especially the Spheres. Both of the main characters are complex, which is good, but they seem to be constantly falling into manure heaps and coming up smelling like roses. It's just a whiff of the 'Mary Sue,' and while I can usually forgive it in an author's first novel, it gets tiresome very quickly. I hope that this trend will stop with this novel.
Another difficulty is with the slang, espcially with such terms as 'gib,' 'dingo,' and the like. It took me forever to catch onto what exactly they were, and every time the author tossed them into the narrative, it was as though I was hitting a speed-bump. Something to set it all into context would have been nice.
The biggest problem was with the fraternization, especially across the commissioned and noncommissioned line. As someone who grew up in the military, and was married into it, there is an ancient rule, never to be broken -- Rank Hath Its Privileges, and that really meant, no socializing and especially no sex across ranks and in the same department. Nothing will bust your fanny faster than getting caught in that one, and it's usually with a dishonourable attached to it to boot. It felt very strange to be reading about it in the book, and while the author got most of what she was writing about right, and it felt right, this certainly didn't.
Still even with the problems, it's still a bearable read. While I will be certainly looking out for her next book in the series, The Stars Down Under, I won't be buying it in hardbound. I'll wait for the mass market edition instead.
Entertaining overall, but only makes it to about a three and a half star, rounded up to four as I still can't give a half-star adjustment here.