Honor’s Reserve by Michael La Ronn: A Book Review

I’m sorry. This just did not hold my attention.

More than a year ago, I read Phantom Planet, which is the second book in the Galaxy Mavericks series but came out before the first one. Near the end of that, Grayson, the main character in Honor’s Reserve, shows up to rescue Keltie (he’s in the space equivalent of the Coast Guard). At the time, the vibes I got were definitely eyebrow-raise-what-have-we-here-man-in-uniform-potential-romantic-interest-alert. So it’s disappointing to find that Grayson’s back story is, so far, more boring than Keltie’s.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that this space opera takes liberties with science. In fact, the author includes a hilarious disclaimer at the beginning announcing that he is planning to do just that. Some other Goodreads reviewers actually DNF’d this book because of perceived inaccuracies with hyperspace travel and the like. I would just like to remind my fellow science-fiction readers that hyperspace travel, no matter how convincingly it is “explained,” is FICTION. Travel that even approaches the speed of light probably physically destroys the object traveling. All hyperspace travel is fiction. So is evolution. And boy, is there some fictional evolution in Honor’s Reserve!

Scientists think that the nanocraft [carrying a selection of DNA from humans and various animals] collided with an asteroid that had some kind of molecular life on it, and that that asteroid crashed onto an Earthlike planet that supported carbon life. The two life forms mixed, rapidly evolved, and Arguses were born.

Honor’s Reserve, p. 36

Arguses are aliens that basically have human bodies and the heads of pigs. And this entire, intelligent species evolved in … how long? “Nine hundred and fifty years.” Actually less, if you count the transit time for the nanocraft. Wow, that really gives a new meaning to “rapidly evolved.” But frankly, if you look into molecular biology, an intelligent species evolving from bacteria at all is just as unlikely as it evolving in 950 years. So, why not? Remember, this is science FICTION.

I also don’t mind the things in this series that might be considered anachronisms. The year might be in the 3000s, but human nature remains the same. So, Grayson and his fellow crewmembers getting onto a private spacecraft and giving it a bureaucratic-style safety inspection seems refreshingly realistic. I’m sure bureaucracy is not going to decrease with the advance of technology. And, perhaps my favorite moment in the book is when the heroes are trying to jump into hyperspace to escape the villains, and the computer keeps asking them, “Are you sure you want to jump into hyperspace?” and making them click a bunch of permissions, causing them to get caught by the people chasing them.

So then, why did this book keep losing my interest and why did I nearly DNF it at about 40%? Maybe it’s something about the writing. Although I am willing to put up with unrealistically easy jumping into and out of hyperspace, I do like the logistics of my action scenes to be nice and clear, and in Honor’s Reserve, they often weren’t. For example, it was sometimes not clear to me that a character had put their helmet back on (or never taken it off) before, say, the airlock was depressurized. That seems kind of important. There’s a scene near the beginning where Grayson is holding on to the outside of a space ship (or the edge of the airlock door, which is open? Not sure?) where the logistics were just not clear. The scene moved too fast. Show, don’t tell is great, but sometimes with sci-fi we need a little telling, or the scene actually loses drama.

Speaking of losing drama, there was definitely some untapped potential for character development here. I am speaking of Rina, the female villain of the story. [spoilers ahead] She is found to be human trafficking: helping the odious Arguses to kidnap people so they can enslave them. Then we find out that she is doing this in exchange for a promise from the Arguses to protect her and her family. She was at first enslaved, and she has the burn marks to prove it. Well, even if it’s not ultimately excusable, this seems like a pretty understandable motivation. It might bear looking into a little further. Rina has evidently been through some pretty heavy trauma recently and is in a desperate situation. We might want to examine that, no?

No. Rina is consistently portrayed as a sociopath. “You can’t trust anything she says.” She even comes right out and says, “It didn’t really bother me to enslave a bunch of other people, as long as it wasn’t me.” So Rina is thoroughly bad and we can safely hate her and turn her over to the Arguses.

Even this character arc might have been OK if it had been written with a little more complexity: if, say, Grayson had been tempted to feel sorry for Rina when he heard her tragic back story, had tried to turn her, and had then been double-crossed and we find her doubling down on her evil. But that’s not how it goes down. It’s as if Rina is barely a character at all.

To sum up: a bland, one-dimensional villain (and consequently, hero); aliens that don’t seem spooky, just like grosser, evil-er people; and action scenes that sometimes felt rushed and inadequately explained are all the reasons that I found the author’s notes at the end, about his philosophy of space operas, much more interesting than the book itself, and the reasons I am sadly giving this book two stars.

I will say that Phantom Planet, while it had some of these same problems on a smaller scale, was better than Honor’s Reserve. It had some spooky, unexplained things that promised more terror later in the series. I might give this series one more book before I give up on it.

Painting Inspired by Knitting

I’m in the process of knitting the scarf for a specific person. I picked the colors of the hand-dyed wool based on the intended beneficiary’s coloring, and the colors of the clothing they usually wear. Little did I know that when it knit up, it would portray a futuristic, sci-fi-book-cover type of scene.

Don’t see it? Look closer …

Now zoom out a little …

… and, all the way out …

There it is.

More Incisive Reasoning from Phillip Johnson

“Evolution” in the Darwinist usage implies a completely naturalistic metaphysical system, in which matter evolved to its present state of organized complexity without any participation by a Creator. But “evolution” also refers to much more modest concepts, such as microevolution and biological relationship. The tendency of dark moths to preponderate in a population when background trees are dark therefore demonstrates evolution — and also demonstrates, by semantic transformation, the naturalistic descent of human beings from bacteria.

If critics are sophisticated enough to see that population variations have nothing to do with major transformations, Darwinists can disavow the argument from microevolution and point to relationship as the “fact of evolution.” Or they can turn to biogeography, and point out that species on offshore islands closely resemble those on the nearby mainland. Because “evolution” means so many different things, almost any example will do. The trick is always to prove one of the modest meanings of the term, and treat it as proof of the complete metaphysical system.

Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial, p. 153

The X-Files Book Tag

I saw this tag on Emily Hurricane’s blog and I guess we are of the same generation, roughly, because there was a time when I watched the X-Files religiously, much to the annoyance of the people who lived with me. (I was a bad roommate. But that’s a story for another day.)

What can I say? I like aliens, dimly lit sets, interminable subplots, attractive actors, and Scully’s intelligent, sardonic mumble. And red hair. And … aliens.

Here are the rules for this tag: • Take out your fake FBI badge and answer the questions • You can link back to Book Princess Reviews if you wish • Keep the alien love alive and tag any and all X-Files fans you know…or just other people. (I myself will be tagging aliens only. So if you get tagged, I’m on to you …)

Fox Mulder

Mulder is known to have some “out there” beliefs, so name a book that you believe in despite everyone/ratings/reviews tell you perhaps isn’t that great.

Easy: the Bible. The more I read it, the more convinced I am that it’s the most amazing, epic, big, composite history book ever. But for people who have an issue with it, often one of their first complaints is that it’s not historical.

Dana Scully

Just like the resident FBI skeptic, name a book that you’re skeptical of (because of hype, sketchy cover, etc.)

Any book that offers a one-factor explanation for all the problems in the world, be that factor evolution, industrialization, racism, intolerance, capitalism, lack of faith in yourself and the universe, cholesterol, sugar, or whatever. Unfortunately, one-factor explanations are always popular. Which ones are most popular cycle through, and when an explanation is enjoying its moment in the sun, it seems to generate multiple books every year.

I Want To Believe

What book do you believe, just like the famous tagline, will be your next 5 star/crown read off of your TBR?

I hope this isn’t cheating, because I already started it just today: The Unseen Realm by Michael Hieser. (cue spooky X-Files music) I think this is going to be my go-to reference as I plan my next novel. I am borrowing it from a loved one, and let’s just say I hope he is not planning to use it any time soon.

Aliens

Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

Name a book on your TBR that is from a genre that seems out from another book world to you but still sounds super good.

When I attempted to enter a reading challenge at my local library last year, I read my very first Jack Reacher novel. I don’t usually enjoy spy stories or military stories, because I have sometimes found them hard to relate to. (Sometimes the people’s personalities disappear among all the high tech, action, or the inhuman-seeming military culture.) Not so with Jack Reacher. I will be coming back.

The Lone Gunmen

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Name a book that comes along with an epic team just like these three hacking men.

My rabbit-obsessed child and I just finished reading Watership Down together, and … talk about an epic team! Of rabbits! It starts with Fiver, a small, seemingly barely functional Cassandra of a rabbit who sees visions of the future. Then add Hazel, the only rabbit who believes Fiver when he says something terrible is coming. Then Bigwig, a large warrior rabbit who gets his rough edges sanded off, and Blackberry, clever enough to understand foreign concepts like boats, and Dandelion, the storyteller …

This is an amazing book, and I will definitely be saying more about it in the future.

Walter Skinner

Skinner is the boss that forever teeters on the edge of good and evil, so name a conflicting character for you (whether the character is just conflicted or you’re conflicted about your feelings for them).

(Hey, doesn’t every boss forever teeter on the edge of good and evil? Leadership is hard. You find out when you have to do it. If you manage not to mess up royally and ruin lives, you deserve a medal.)

Hope this isn’t cheating, but there is a very conflicted character at the center of my book The Great Snake, due to come out this spring. Klee has good intentions, but she’s mad at the world (and at her family). She has good reasons, but her harsh judgement of them leads her into some bad decisions. They, meanwhile, are also conflicted. They did let her down, but it was in the process of trying to navigate a messy situation that didn’t offer good solutions.

Cigarette-Smoking Man

Name the worst book villain you can think of just like this smoking fiend who refuses to stay dead.

Last year I read The Gulag Archipelago (abridged) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. So I would have to say Stalin. Stalin did die, finally, but only after setting up systems that would continue making things worse and worse long after he was gone.

What do you think? Do you have books for these categories? Are you an X-files nerd? If you are an alien, shapeshifter, cave dweller, or a Bigfoot, please join the tag! All others may comment below.

A Month (Give or Take) of Nonfiction

Unrelieved grey, above & below? … Look closer, there’s a treat in the middle!

So, just as a personal update here, it’s been an odd six weeks since Christmas. First of all, there was … you know … Christmas, with all that implies when you are the mom and in charge of the festivities. Right before Christmas, I injured my shoulder doing a pushup (don’t laugh … I’ve injured myself by sleeping wrong), and that resulted in several weeks of nerve pain. Then around the time the shoulder/arm injury was becoming less intrusive, I got some sort of bug that wiped me out for about two weeks. Added to all this, it’s been really dark and cold, as it tends to be in the dead of winter. Even with our modern conveniences … heated car, warm house, plenty of groceries, etc., that deep chill can really make it seem like life is against you. (Honestly, how did our ancestors ever survive the Dark Ages? Imagine being sick, and having sick kids, in a hut where it’s not warm if you don’t keep building up the fire.)

With all of this, I haven’t exactly been tearing through the reading material. I do have a sizeable TBR of nonfiction … but even some of that, I wasn’t ready to face. I have a couple of nonfiction books about American Indians that promise to be eye-opening but depressing.

So I punted.

My nonfiction this past six weeks has been a reread, a book about the writing process (which is like candy!), and a journalistic book that goes down easy. Here they are.

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers

A fantastic book about how the structure of the Trinity is reflected in the creative process. See my review here.

Rigged by Mollie Hemingway

A journalistic book that documents the various things that were done to ensure that T—- was not re-elected in 2020, including things like burying very incriminating evidence of B—–‘s corruption, changing (or ignoring) election laws in Pennsylvania, etc. I actually remember a lot of this stuff happening, because I get my news from the Daily Wire, although of course this book has more details, inside information, sources, etc. If you don’t get your news from the Daily Wire or a similar off-narrative outlet, it’s possible that the contents of this book might shock you. For me, it’s more of an entertaining ride, plus explanations of local election laws that a layperson can understand, plus just seeing that all this stuff is documented for posterity before it gets memory-holed.

I will probably give this book to someone as a gift later, but as per tradition, I must pre-read it first. (I haven’t decided who I will give it to, so if you clamor loudly, there’s chance that person could be you!)

Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson

Here is the review I posted on Goodreads this week:

This is a reread. The first edition was published in 1991. I’ve read it a number of times over the years. This time, I got it out because my students are getting to the age when we are going to have to start wading in to these debates.

Johnson is a lawyer, so he has a sharp eye for spotting equivocations, ad hominems, and the unexamined philosophical assumptions behind even honestly made arguments. His writing is a pleasure to read. It’s a course in logic as well as a survey of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, or as he calls it, the Blind Watchmaker thesis. Now, on my third or fourth reading, I realize that I missed a lot on previous readings because there is just so much going on in this book. Also, perhaps, because when we are accustomed to hearing a debate framed in one way, it can be difficult to follow, on first reading, when someone frames it differently.

Scientific discoveries have changed a lot since Johnson wrote this book. The changes have not provided more evidence for the Blind Watchmaker thesis; quite the opposite. Soft tissue has been discovered in dinosaur fossils, for example. More and more “hominem” species that were thought to be sub-human have been discovered to have been, in fact, simply human. Stephen Meyer has published his books about the Cambrian explosion and the challenges it poses to the Blind Watchmaker thesis. Genetics gets more, not less, intricate the more closely it is studied. More “living fossils” have been found. However, the amazing thing is that none of this matters much to the thesis of Darwin on Trial. Johnson’s argument is that the Blind Watchmaker thesis is not an empirical claim that its adherents set out to test, but rather a philosophical position: a logical deduction from naturalism, or from strict materialism. To true believers in the Blind Watchmaker thesis, none of the discoveries I have mentioned will look like disconfirming evidence.