Around these parts I commit myself to (at least try) finishing everything I start. Why, you ask? Because I think it’s important for me to help my readers make decisions about what they should buy and what they should avoid. If I only read things that I enjoy, how will I ever fulfill the second half of that commitment? I’m also loathe to spend 800 words eviscerating someone’s baby. Thus, Cheryl was born. Cheryl is my imaginary personal assistant who helps me “review” novels I really did not like. Instead of just doggedly attacking a novel’s failures, I try to have some fun with it and get some laughs. Hopefully it’s taken the way I intend it.
This is my seventh installment of posts featuring Cheryl. If you enjoy this one, I suggest finding the Cheryl tag on the right sidebar for the others. This is the second time Cheryl has been deployed on a self published novel. While the previous incarnation was an abomination of fiction, Discount Miracles has some redeeming qualities. That said, it just isn’t good enough for a wide audience.
I don’t generally accept self-published titles for review. Seriously, I don’t. Except sometimes I get an e-mail I can’t say no to. Brand Gamblin’s e-mail was one of those. He invoked the name of a mutual friend, happens to be a Washington DC Metro local, and didn’t try to push a vampire werewolf paranormal romance on me. I also got a sick kick out of the author’s last name as reading self-published work feels an awful like gambling.
I’m a sucker, aren’t I?
Gamblin’s novel, Discount Miracles, follows the crew of the space salvage ship JN3-0518 (or Jenny) that’s crashed on a planet that’s been out of touch with the rest of the galaxy for hundreds of years. In the midst of a superstitious dark age, the planet’s denizens liken the Jenny’s crew to witches, a fact they tend to reinforce by faking miracles. Things seem to be going swimmingly when they take a job to help a prince ascend to godhood. Easier said than done.
As I considered how I would write this review I went through several stages. First, I felt compelled to critique the novel as I would for someone asking me to look at an unpublished manuscript. There are a host of small changes I would suggest to Gamblin that would produce a better product. Of course, he didn’t ask me to do that. Second, I felt like employing my fine assistant Cheryl to eviscerate the novel, but I couldn’t find an angle worthy of Cheryl. Not to mention there aren’t any typos or structural screw ups, which pretty much rules out my standard plan of attack for self-published work. Finally, I resolved to write what amounts to a pretty ho-hum piece that once again emphasizes the reason why many self-published authors self-publish. (Hint: Because they aren’t very good writers.)
Before I get too far into the flaws in Gamblin’s writing, let me say that I rather enjoy the novel’s conceit. Motoring around a technologically backward planet in a spaceship that’s incapable of leaving orbit, and leaving miracles behind, is fun to imagine. It opens up a host of questions, both in terms of science and morality, some of which Discount Miracles promises to address, but never really does.
Character wise the Jenny’s crew behaves as crews have come to behave in the post Firefly era — self interested, but ultimately honorable. Sadly, Gamblin never develops them much beyond their immediate interaction with the narrative. In a novel with such a simple plot, it’s vital that the characters exist in three dimension. Unfortunately, Gamblin’s crew is the science fictional equivalent of Flat Stanley….
Oh, who the hell am I kidding?
Cheryl: Mr. Landon, I can’t believe you reviewed a self-published title before you’ll even look at my manuscript.
Justin: No. Absolutely not. I’m not reviewing Tumescent Snake under any circumstances.
Cheryl: But, I’ve added magic and a space ship. It’s slipstream paranormal romance!
Justin: Please don’t say slipstream.
Cheryl: Why? Slipstream, slipstream, slipstream.
Justin: Argh! I just read Brand Gamblin’s Discount Miracles. He calls it slipstream. I call it slipped and fell in a stream of uninspired writing.
Cheryl: Oh, here we go.
Justin: What? I could have easily made a urine joke there. I thought the final product showed a great deal of self restraint.
Cheryl: You’re about as restrained as Katie Price at a melon smuggling convention. But, really… do tell. What makes Brand Gamblin… Jesus, is that his real name?
Justin: I’m assuming it’s a pen name.
Cheryl: God, I hope so. Can you imagine meeting him in a bar? Hey beautiful, want to get Branded tonight? Place a wager, because it’s time to start Gamblin. I can go on.
Justin: I think you’ve made your point. You were saying?
Cheryl: Right. *ahem* What makes his writing so… uninspired?
Justin: Would believe that in 200 pages of reading I don’t recall a single metaphor? Gamblin writes clear prose, and he’s obviously hired a copy editor to clean it up, but there’s a complete lack of vitality. It’s like reading the corpse of a novel. I have no idea what the Jenny looks like, or more importantly what it feels like, smells like, or evokes from the crew. I can tell you one of the crew members is short and stocky, one is female, one is a scrawny jerk, and the other is a stand-up captain dude. I don’t know much more about them as people which is a complete failure of the author.
Cheryl: I bet the short guy is strong.
Justin: You guessed it. He’s from a hi-G planet. How does he feel about being away from home? How did he end up on a ship in the middle of nowhere? Now that I mention it, why are any of these people on a ship together?
Cheryl: Sounds like a pretty shallow novel. Aren’t most self published novels self indulgent rants that go on forever because the author can’t parse it?
Justin: You know, that’s a good point, Cheryl.
Justin: Don’t let it go to your head. You’re right though, Gamblin actually has what reads more like a bare bones first draft where he lays out the major plot points before laying down all the supports that make a novel. And truth be told if he had gone through and laid down that framework, my response to his work would be a great deal warmer.
Justin: You’re telling me.
Cheryl: So you’re saying this the last time you’re Gamblin on self-published work? God, I could use that pun until the cows come home.
Justin: Leave the comedy to me.