I read a lot of science as you know if you regularly visit this blog. I was very fortunate recently to get a heads up from a good friend and Babylon Project Podcast guest host, JP Harvey of Las Vegas, Nevada. While we were working out some technical bugs in preparation for recording an episode, JP told me about a series of books that he really enjoyed and thought that I might too. I had no idea how much of an understatement JP made when he said I would enjoy Nathan Lowell's Trader's Tales From The Age Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper series.
I began reading the first of the six books the day before we got holiday break from school, and in the two weeks of vacation, I managed to read five of the six novels, and will soon begin reading the last of them
Most of what I read involved a violent conflict of some kind, or a post apocalyptic world, or an alien invasion, or a war. While there is some conflict in this series, very little of it is violent, there is no ruined worlds, no aliens, and no wars. There is, however space travel, but as far as I can tell to this point, the ships that the characters travel in aren't even armed.
So what's the deal? There are none of the elements that make up a good Scifi story? How does that work?
The novels are told from the point of view of Ishmael Horatio Wang (pronounced 'Wong'), an ordinary person who found himself in a bad position and then stumbles into a career that allows him to live an extraordinary life.
This is going to be a two-part post and I will reserve my remarks about what I think of these stories for the second part. So at this point, I will post a synopsis of the first three books in the series and suffice it to say that I loved everything I have read as of the end of the fifth book in the series.
Quarter Share: Book One of the Trader's Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper Series by Nathan Lowell
The first book covers the life of Ishmael from August 13, 2351 to February 17, 2352.
Young Ishmael is preparing to attend the University on the planet, Neris. He lives with his mother, a professor at the University in an apartment that is just large enough for the two of them.
One evening, while Ishmael was home alone, two strangers knock on the door and inform Ishmael that his mother and the man she was out on a date with have been killed in a "flitter" accident (a flitter is a sort flying car). Before the shock of losing his mother can set in, Ishmael is informed by university officials that he will have to leave the apartment and find passage off of the planet or face being deported. Next he is informed by lawyers that any assets his mother had saved and any earnings due to her would be retained to pay for the property damage caused by the flitter crash.
With little time, and no money, Ish had to find something quickly. He walked into the Union Hall to sign up to go aboard and work on a solar clipper. Solar clippers are space-going vessels that transport cargo between star systems. Just like the clipper ships of old, they would contract for cargos and make money by delivering goods on time to numerous ports of call.
The person who took Ishmael's application sees promise in him and he manages to get hired aboard the Lois Mckendrick owned by Federated Freight. Ishmael is to be a quarter share rating on the mess crew. A share is money over what the normal pay is when the ship earns a profit. It is an incentive to make sure the job is done as contracted. While officers made the highest shares, when there was a profit, everyone received shares or parts of shares.
Ishmael soon shows that he is a good hand on the ship and takes interest in other jobs. His goal becomes to become a half share rating on all areas of ship’s operations, and to explore all of the possibilities. He gets noticed and soon becomes an important part of the crew.
Just a word about the ships themselves here before I move on. It seems that the average trip from one planetary system to the next takes about ten weeks. Using solar sails to propel the ships through the “Deep Dark, “ it takes several weeks for a ship to climb out of a star’s gravity well, and about the same to go from the edge of a system safely into the stations in orbit around the habitable planets.
Among Ishmael’s many talents is that he is good with people, and he learns quickly. When his friend arrives back on the ship after being mugged for his private cargo he intended to sell while in port, Ishmael takes in interest in the private trading which is not only tolerated, but is encouraged, as long as the items up for trade are not illegal or a danger to the ship. Soon, Ish and his friend and coworker on the mess deck are trading and making good money on the stations that they visit.
Quarter Share is an excellent exposition to the rest of the series. We find that the Lois McKendrick is staffed by people that are caring and offer a great deal of encouragement to young Ishmael to continually improve himself and his situation. Ishmael himself is a fine young man who becomes focused on whatever he is doing and performs his duties with a high degree of efficiency. Ishmael is also a very studious who takes his duties very seriously, but maintains a good sense of humor.
Half Share: Book Two of the Trader's Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper Series by Nathan Lowell
The second book of the series include events beginning almost immediately after the first book and covers the next two months up to April 19, 2352.
Ishmael and Pip are having a great deal of success with their Cooperative trading arrangement. Most of the crew are in on what is turning out to be a very lucrative venture for everyone involved. With the help of the officers, there is space provided and the business is benefiting the ship in many ways, including morale of the crew.
Ishmael studies for exams and is promoted to work in the environmental section.
Full Share: Book Three of the Trader's Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper Series by Nathan Lowell
The events of Full Share take place between April 23, 2353 and July 20, 2353.
Ishmael has performed well on the job, and has also done well with his trading activities. He continues to prove himself a valuable member of the crew and is well respected, but he learns that he will have to leave the ship. He is being bumped out of his job because the company has hired and assigned a more senior rating to take his place on the Lois.
While this is a sad state of affairs for everyone on board, Ishmael learns that since he has gained some seniority, he is also allowed to bump someone else and take their berth if he wishes. Being true to his character, he refuses to do this and makes preparations to leave the ship.
During his entire time on the Lois, Ishmael has been encouraged by his fellow crew and officers to improve himself, both through his trading activities and by advancing up through the ranks. But it doesn't stop there, the officers also begin encouraging him to attend the academy where he would also become an officer. He isn't sure he wants to do this and also observes that it is very expensive to go to the academy.
When he looks at what he has earned, he figures out that he has about half of what it would take to pay for going to the academy.
The entire crew rejoices when it is learned that Ishmael is allowed to stay on the ship to fill a new position that was created to avoid a disaster that took place on the Lois. The power on the ship was interrupted temporarily and an officer and Ishmael managed to find the trouble, but it was also discovered that there was something else wrong when carbon dioxide levels began to rise. The new position created was most likely temporary, but it bought Ishmael some time, and his job was to improve the ship's systems to avoid future power interruptions.
Finally, Ishmael is called before the captain who once again encourages him to attend the academy. She, the captain, has already filled out the application for him and secured far more recommendations that is required and Ishmael decides to attend the academy.
As he leaves for the academy, Ishmael Wang has earned full share ratings in every area of ship operations as well as the respect of his fellow crew and officers. The next book in the series, Double Share, picks up after he graduates from the academy and takes his first berth as an officer.
This post is more of a summary of the books in the Trader's tales series. So far, I have read five of the six books in the series. I began reading the first book on the last day before the holiday break from school and in I read all five books over the break. I found myself reading at almost every spare minute during those two weeks.
I set aside reading the sixth book until I could find the time to do some blogging, so stay tuned for my summary of the next three books and my thoughts about them in the next post.
Well, there it is...