I picked up the first short story of the The Slaver Wars series, where an alien space craft is found crashed on the Moon in the near future. The concept was interesting enough that despite the flaws I read the next two short stories that make up the first book in the series, then the second book. The first book is about the discovery of the ship and it’s ramifications, the second is a look back at what brought the ship to Earth. I was curious to see how the writing progressed, considering that the series is highly acclaimed on Amazon. In the end, I can’t understand it.
The series seems to be exactly what give self published authors a bad name. The covers are juvenile, and look as if they were created in five or ten minutes, and though I try to abide by the mantra of not judging a book by it’s cover, it would be appropriate in this case. The rest of the book, from the overall plot outline to the sentence structure is given as much attention as the covers, that is to say very little at all.
In Moon Wreck – First Contact, the first short story in the series, NASA astronauts Jason and Greg crash land on the moon, only to discover an alien ship which has done the same. I got the impression that Weir was told that characters should have external motivations but didn’t understand how to make these believable. Every interaction with the characters contains some sentence about how one character has “A wife and son on Earth” he has to get back to, or how the other one misses his sister. For example
“Jason turned to face Greg. He knew Greg was worried about his wife and son.”
“While Jason wasn’t married, he still had a brother and sister he would like to get back to Earth to see. He also knew that Greg wanted desperately to get back to his family. ”
And to find these I just went to a random page; these are are everywhere. Yes, the characters would obviously miss their families, but explaining this could be done in a more realistic way. I think the issue is it is obvious that the characters miss their families. The reader doesn’t need to be told. Something as simple as Greg taping a picture of his wife and son to a window somewhere would be plenty to show the depth of his devotion.
Another thing that becomes more apparent when reading Moon Wreck – Revelations, the second short story, is that Weir likes to shift his perspective around between characters without warning. Moon Wreck – Revelations brings several more astronauts and scientists to the Moon to investigate the ship that was found. In First Contact the shifting perspective is not as noticeable, though existent, because there are only two characters. However once there are five or six in a room, including an Artificial Intelligence, it just feels wrong to know the personal thoughts of every character. The use of an omnipresent narrator seems dated and lazy. Maybe I’m simply used to a tighter third person, one that only lets the reader into one person’s head at a time. I think it adds depth to the narrative, the reader shouldn’t know everything. I don’t think that Weir ever heard the advice show, don’t tell. He tells the reader exactly how each character is feeling.
Moon Wreck – Secrets of Ceres follows the main characters as they fly to the asteroid Ceres. There they meet the companion ships of the one wrecked on the moon, and their occupants. A fleet of ships traveled from a distant solar system to protect Earth from an alien threat. A threat that will arrive in exactly 268 years. This statement gets repeated over and over. I’m not sure what bothers me, the fact that the date when the alien threat will discover Earth is so exact, or that this warning is flashed to the reader every other page. The reader quickly becomes desensitized of any reaction to the threat.
Another disconcerting aspect is the character’s interests. One is obsessed with weapons, so every other thought he has is about the possibility of seeing the ship’s weapons. This guy only thinks about how much he misses his sister (or wife and kid, I can’t keep it straight) and how much he wants to get his hands on alien weapons. That’s it. He doesn’t get hungry or tired, doesn’t get frustrated with anything, just thinks about his sister and weapons. And how much he knows his friend wants to get back to his wife and kid. It’s painful to read.
The Slaver Wars – Alien Contact, not to be confused with First Contact, takes the reader back to the height of the human federation and tells the story of it’s downfall. As with all previous books another annoying trait comes makes it’s presence known. And knowing is the issue. When Weir wants to tell the reader something a character knows it. As in, Bob knew that the battlecruiser was a 2000-meter long ship. Or “he knew that even an FTL message would take a full day to reach the home system.” Again, Weir is telling the reader things and never showing them. It gets old quick.
Ok, so as I’ve described the writing leaves much to be desired. Maybe, you’re thinking, it’s just the writing that’s bad, and the story is amazing. So good that all these flaws can be overlooked. It’s not. In the first three short stories there’s no conflict. The largest challenge is in the first book, where the stranded astronauts have to shut of a transmitter blocking their communications with Earth. This is as easy as flipping a switch. After that the other three books are simply exploration and world building. An hour after finishing them I wasn’t really sure what happened in the books. Alien Contact is a bit better about this. It starts with a first encounter scenario, but then bogs down describing how the defenses are prepared for the inevitable alien attack. These carefully constructed defenses are then brushed aside as soon as the combat starts. Another issue is that the characters sacrifice nothing. An entire civilization is devastated, and no character that is introduced has a personal loss. Maybe it’s just that we live in a Game of Thrones world now, but I think someone should die once in a while.
The thing that bothers me most about the books is that there’s so much promise in the premise. I kept reading them, waiting for the writing to improve. I wanted them to be good, if only because I wanted to know what happened in the story. That’s not to say that the story itself is good, the pacing and climaxes are all wrong, but the prompt is unique. I think that’s why I am so offended that the books are so terrible, they only needed to be mediocre for me to like them.
In short, unless you’re looking for how not to write, don’t bother reading the Slaver War series of books. I’m glad the books were cheap, I would be quite upset if I had wasted any more money.
Now, lets see what others thought of it.
About First Contact, Arya said that “ I guess I’m just glad it wasn’t more than a short story, but it also made kinda sad, because the summary for his other books look pretty awesome, but I don’t expect the narrative will differ from what I just read: very amateurish writing.” I totally agree with this sentiment. The whole concept of the story is great, it’s a shame that it’s done in such an amateur way, because I would like to explore the concept. However the quality of the book will prevent me from doing so.
Brent did a review on Revelations, and thinks that “Weil’s flat writing style moves quickly through an compelling plot. The story is interesting and the author does well to reveal bits and pieces in a way that holds the reader.” Now, I fully agree that Weil’s writing style is flat. I think that’s about the nicest thing that can be said about it. A compelling plot, however, is something that I did not pick up on. The only reason I finished this book was the fact that I was writing a review of the series. It was a struggle, I was in no way “held.”
One thing that I just can’t wrap my head around is that in all but one of the Amazon pages one of the highlighted blurbs, I don’t know how they get there beyond some sort of Amazon parsing algorithm but I assume they are the most common comments, is that a large majority of reviewers think the books are well written. I just don’t see how anyone could say that about the Slaver Wars series. I could see people saying the story is interesting, or the premise is good, but I just don’t know how anyone could applaud this writing. Who exactly reviews these books?