This post is a continuation of an earlier post on the Trader’s Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell. In the last post, I summarized the first three books of the series, Quarter Share, Half Share, and Full Share. In those first three books that span a period of about two years, we follow the early years of Ishmael Wang serving aboard the Lois McKendrick, a clipper that travels between systems delivering cargo and making a profit. As Ishmael works and learns, gains the respect of the officers and crew of the Lois, and at the urging of almost everyone, decides to attend the Academy to train to become an officer himself.
Ishmael’s story picks up following his graduation from the Academy almost five years after the events of the third novel in the series, Full Share.
Double Share: Book Four of the Trader’s Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper by Nathan Lowell
The events of this book take place between May 22, 2358 and November 26, 2358.
Almost immediately after graduating from the academy, and after a leisurely trip to the Diurnia Orbital space station, Ishmael prepares to begin his first appointment as an officer for the Diurnia Salvage and Transport company. His first assignment as a third officer is aboard the William Tinker, commanded by Captain Rossett.
Ishmael soon learns that the ship he has been assigned to is nothing like the Lois. What he actually finds aboard can only be described as appalling. First, he notices that there is a strange odor on the ship, then he learns that the food and coffee is less than desirable. As time goes on, he also finds that the ship has been poorly maintained and that there seems to be very low morale amongst the crew, which consists of all women with the exception of himself, the Captain and a very crude First Mate named Burnside, and a couple of other thuggish characters.
As Ishmael sets about doing his best to improve conditions on the ship, he finds that he is being fought every step of the way. Morale improves, but Ishmael pays a cost for every improvement he makes on his one-man crusade to make the Tinker a better place to live and work.
During his time on the Tinker, Ishmael makes some friends, but he also makes enemies that threaten his very life. However, in the end, it is the crew of the ship that wins as the owner hired Ishmael specifically to clean up the ship and help him get rid of the undesirable captain and first mate.
Captain’s Share: Book Five of the Trader’s Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper by Nathan Lowell
The events of this book take place between August 22, 2371 and September 13, 2372.
It is some thirteen years later and Ishmael is now the First Officer on the William Tinker. He is also married.
On their way back into port, the ship gets a report that there is a derelict ship that is causing a navigations hazard and the crew of the Tinker takes on the task of investigating the situation. Ishmael goes on board and finds the entire crew dead and takes command of the derelict. They guide the ship back to the orbital and Ishmael soon learns that he is to be a captain and will be getting his own ship.
While in port, Ishmael goes to his apartment and spends time with his wife, but when he informs her that he is to become captain and that he will be shipping out again soon, an argument breaks out. This has become a regular pattern in his relationship. Later, when he learns about the ship he will be commanding, his wife seems to have a change of heart and is happy that he will be captain of his own ship.
Ishmael takes command of the Agamemnon, which has the reputation for being the worst ship in the fleet for many reasons. As he assumes command, he uses his usual charm and people skills to get his ship in shape for business. As this happens, He also learns that the change in his wife’s attitude is because she is having an affair. He promptly begins divorce proceedings.
So Ishmael gathers his crew and sets sail for the Deep Dark once again.
Owner’s Share: Book Six of the Trader’s Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper by Nathan Lowell.
The events of this book take place between December 10, 2372 and January 1, 2374.
Ishmael has managed to turn the Agamemnon around and has made it a profitable ship. After starting with a rough crew, he manages to get them trained and they work well together. He also learns that he is very likely going to become a very wealthy person thanks to his part in the salvage of the found derelict, which brings him some unwanted attention and a very annoying celebrity status. Pictures of him show up everywhere documenting almost his every move in every port he enters.
Meanwhile, the owner of the company that he works for passes away and he is urged by many to become an owner in his own right, but those urging him on have an ulterior motive; while the owner’s daughter stands to inherit the entire company, he has made a stipulation that before she is allowed to take over, she has to spend a year working on a ship from another company. Several investors come together to help Ishmael get his company started and running. While it is assumed that the daughter is somewhat of a selfish brat, it actually turns out that she becomes a valuable and excellent member of Ishmael’s new crew.
As often happens, celebrity status and high stakes also come with high risks, and soon Ishmael find himself, unwittingly in the middle of a power struggle that almost costs him his life. All of this causes Ishmael to reassess his life and his future, which is quite uncertain at the end of this book.
When it was recommended to me that I read this series, I was not sure what to expect. I guess I expected to find a typical sci-fi with all the usual elements of the space opera that I normally read. I was pleasantly surprised, right from the start, that I was in for a different kind of sci-fi than what I normally read.
The Trader’s Tales is not about war, the ships aren’t armed, and there are no people in impossible situations finding solutions by impossible means, rather these are just good stories about ordinary people doing their jobs as best they are able and solving problems as they come along. I would like to put an emphasis on ordinary, but also stress that the prose here is extraordinary.
The hero of these books is a man of Asian descent named Ishmael Wang. He is a brilliant person who really knows how to handle people without compromising his own standards. Once he makes up his mind to do something, he does a fine job, but he is not a flawless character; he does make plenty of mistakes, but he faces the consequences for all of his actions with honor and dignity. Ishmael tries to surround himself with people that are of high quality, but sometimes falls short of the mark. But as a natural born leader, he almost always finds a way to bring oout the best on those around him just by being who and what he is, a good person. In the series, he takes some of the most seemingly impossible characters and helps them rise above themselves and see their own self-worth. This is exactly the kind of person I would love to work for, but all to rarely find. No matter what problems come up, Ishmael handles them with a cool head and compassion, treating those around him as equals and rewarding them on their merits as opposed to what they have done for him. One prime example of this, throughout his entire career as a Spacer is his policy that one doesn’t “screw with crew.” Yes, that is exactly what it means, even though opportunities abound on every berth he is on, he refuses to get into personal relationships with members of the crew he is serving with. That is not to say that he is made of tempered steel though, he is quite often tempted by the strong female characters and his convictions are quite often challenged.
The stories are told from Ishmael’s point of view. The writing is in the form of a narrative prose that is easy to read. This is truly the story of people doing jobs, so there is little time spent on the technical aspects of the ship’s operations. There are a few brief explanations of how some of the systems work, but we don’t get bogged down in a lot of jargon, which keeps the stories flowing smoothly. While one might think that such mundane material might get boring, these stories are anything but mundane thanks to the brilliant pacing of the narrative. The way the story is told, one can easily visualize what a ship or an orbital station might look like.
Nathan Lowell holds a Ph.D. in Educational Technology and specializes in Distance Learning. He learned about live aboard ships by working on fishing boats and while in the Coast Guard. Nathan now lives in Colorado. Recently, I friended him on Facebook and a few weeks ago assured me that the adventures of Ishmael Wang will continue, but he gave no details on when to watch for a new installment of the Trader’s Tales. Links to the books and audiobooks can be found on the author's Solar Clipper Diary webpage.
In July of 2012, Dr.Lowell was interviewed by the SciFi Diner Podcast. Just click the link to listen to that interview in which the author talks about his work.
I give these works my highest recommendations for some great reading.
Well, there it is…