Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Mandate of Earth

The Mandate of Earth is a Sci-Fi novel released on March 17th, 2015 by indie author, game programmer, and one of my personal heroes, Johnathan S. Harbour.
I'm a member of John's forums, which I've visited frequently for years.
I've been kinda busy most recently, so I haven't been visiting the forum as much as I did in the past. But I make it a habit to try and visit it at least once a month if possible, just to keep up with the community.
And there I discovered John had published this book, and was offering a free copy to regular members of his forums.
And since then, this book has dominated my time for the last two-and-a-half weeks. I intended to have it up on the twelfth of April, but I didn't get to the end by that point, thanks to the PDF readers on my Nook refusing to read past page 35.
And the reason this is being published mid-week, instead of last Sunday as I usually do is thanks in part to the other PDF reader on my Nook refusing to read past page 115. And the fact that I can't look at a white screen with black text without having to take long breaks. That's an issue I have with reading books on an LCD screen, the fact that I can't read them for long periods of time without needing to take a break.
Now, while the cover immediately struck me as kinda cheap-looking, the book itself was fascinating to read.
I'm a science-fiction lover, I will admit. I've never really been able to get into hard Sci-Fi, though. I was always more of a Star Wars or Star Trek kinda Sci-Fi guy.
Pretty much every hard Sci-Fi novel I've read gets a little too into the reality of the science, and doesn't really let the fiction part of the book shine through. And they usually end with humanity using up all of the resources in existence, and then the heat-death of the universe, or something along those lines.
Or everything evolving to a bizarre and incomprehensible energy being with the last of humanity aghast with what they've done to the universe and what they've become. And that's been the fundamental plot of almost every hard Sci-Fi novel I've ever read.
Mandate doesn't really have that problem. It keeps its focus on the characters, and their actions, rather than trying to make some grand statement about the end of time that winds up being more depressing than meaningful.
The book starts out at some point in what I presume is the near future, the way Sci-Fi tends to do.
To the advantage of Mandate, the future presented isn't too outlandish. And the progression of time, while somewhat abrupt, does flow pretty nicely.
The main character is a guy named Jack Seerva, an inventor and philanthropist with a dream of taking humanity to the stars.
Throughout his life, he's built a company with the express purpose of funding research to take humanity into the rest of the solar-system.
And then, boom. A comet hits the earth.
And annihilates a city, while also causing massive destruction along its path.
So, Jack and his company decide to amp up their production, and manage to "Bootstrap" their way into space in an astoundingly short period of time. And in a relatively realistic sort of way.
As time goes on, events unfold in such a way that I can't help but compare them to human history. A seemingly random series of issues come up in such a way that it strikes me as a realistic depiction of the progression of human history. Or human future, as the case may be.
I think the best part about this novel is how it presents the events contained within. An issue I have with a lot of hard Sci-Fi is the fact that presentation usually comes second to the science. The fact that this book stays within the realms of feasibility without needing a physics or engineering degree to understand all of the explanations. Then again, I am admittedly a huge nerd, so that might be my science education showing.
What I really like about this book is the fact that it has a good focus on the characters, rather than getting caught up in the events, and leaving the characters kinda bland.
Even with such a large cast as Mandate has, every one of them seems like someone who could actually exist. Sort of like how The Hunger Games managed to make its cast seem like a group of actual people. If I'd been able to read the book non-stop without needing long breaks, I might have had it all finished in a day, the way I did with The Hunger Games.
Even the most outlandish bits of story are still pretty reasonable in presentation and explanation.
Speaking of explanation, I was astounded by the elegance of it all. A lot of Sci-Fi relies on clunky dumps of exposition to justify their utterly impractical technology.
Considering that the level of technology in Mandate isn't too far-removed from where we are now, compared to how certain novels approach it, it doesn't require a ton of exposition.
That and the fact that the biggest leaps in technology tend to happen on-screen makes for a consistent flow.
Although I will have to disagree with John on one count, I don't think that computer mice will ever really go out of style, or be replaced by touchscreens, since the general consensus seems to be that touchscreens are fidgety and imprecise.
The good thing was that I didn't really have to make any big leaps of faith to allow the story to make sense. I feel that it all moves pretty naturally. It goes from us being an earthbound society to having a foothold in the universe without having to skip a whole lot.
Now, I might as well move on from talking about the pacing, and actually spend a little time talking about the plot. I'll try my best to not give any major spoilers away.
A lot of changes come on because of the comet impact, and Jack speeds up the launch process to get essentially a "backup" of humanity into space just in case a major extinction event happens.
Despite some criticism for their actions, Seerva Inc. keeps on with their mission to bring space-travel into the mainstream.
The complete series of events is a bit depressing, and winds up weighing heavily upon the characters.
But eventually, as I said before, they do manage to establish what appears to be a successful colony in space.
The book then ends on a cliffhanger, leaving the fate of the characters in question.
All in all, I liked The Mandate of Earth, and I'm not just saying that because the author is someone I look up to. I think it's a pretty good read, and well worth picking up. Considering this is a self-published work, it's certainly a massive step-up from the pack.
In the end, I give it an 8.4* rating.
If you guys are interested, here's the amazon link to the book. It's 25% off today: