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Nathan Lowell’s Golden Age novels

There are three novels so far in Nathan Lowell’s Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series. I started listening to the first of them, Quarter Share just before Christmas on Podiobooks, and liked it so much I went back to the second (Half Share) and third (Full Share) earlier this month.

I’ll get the rating out of the way first: I loved these books. I couldn’t stop listening. I managed to discipline myself enough that I subscribed to the chapter-a-day feed on Podiobooks for Quarter Share, but about four episodes into Half Share I just released all the episodes and listened to them over the next two days. Full Share was downloaded during one night and listened to completely the following day, a week day! It’s clear that I found all the books very compelling, and I liked them very much, so I rate them YES!

The books follow Ishmael Horatio Wang, a teenager who has to learn to find his own way through life after his Ancient Literature professor mother is killed in an accident. Finding his way involves both seeking his vocation and replacing his family. He finds his vocation in space, and his family on board the ship he joined. It is these parallel searches that are the strongest part of the books for me. Ish’s searches resonated strongly and were probably the main reason I was so drawn in by the story.

There are, however, weaknesses in the writing. Lowell has written that he wanted to create a hero who wasn’t born heroic. Indeed Ish starts out right at the bottom of the ladder, and is in no way anything more than a commoner with no heritage to sustain or drive him. But Ish excels in everything he tries: he is literate and perceptive; he is a studying and test-passing machine; he is a great lover he can do any job he turns his hand to; he is good looking and sexy; he is fit; and he even makes superb coffee. He has no failings or weaknesses at all, which does tend to reduce the level of tension for me.

There is an element of mystery – almost magic – through the novels, which is odd to find in science fiction. Make no mistake, this is science fiction, not fantasy. The ship that Ish joins, the Lois McKendrick, has a ship’s spirit whom Ish trusts implicitly, and who is almost a full character in her own right. Another character, Sarah Krugg, is a shaman, and is credited with uncanny powers. I found the idea of magic in a science fiction novel strangely compelling, but I imagine that it might put some hard core SF fans off.

No review of these books would be complete without commenting on the reading. Nathan Lowell reads his stories with a warm, intimate voice that draws you in. The characters all have their own voices, each subtly drawn and distinct from the others. I found the reading excellent.

I would be surprised if Lowell could find a publisher for these books, because of the weaknesses I mentioned. I enjoyed them immensely, despite the weaknesses, but I think that it is because their plot and characters seemed designed to appeal especially to someone like me. I’ll certainly listen to anything else that Lowell writes and podcasts.

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