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Quarter Share

by Nathan Lowell

Published by Ridan

Print edition available 2010

Reviewed by Dale Arnold
Review posted 6/22/11

Quarter Share is the story of Ishmael Horatio Wang, a suddenly orphaned boy, living on a company owned planet with no place for slackers like the children of deceased employees. His choices quickly devolve into either being shipped off to an even worst planet or signing up as crew on a merchant ship named the SC Lois McKendrick. Naturally, the quarter share of the title refers to the low level of pay his skills can secure in a entry level job on the ship.

The star ship as merchant ship has a long tradition in SF. From Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy to the Witches of Karres and the Stardust Voyages, there is always a star ship out there in the black trying to make a profit. In many of these stories the ship and trade scenario is a starting point for the grand adventure of discovering the newest crew member is a long lost corporate heir, or budding psi-power, or someday political genius and future emperor. In Quarter Share there is none of that nonsense. (Fun though such nonsense can be in another type of story) The ship is conducting trade and the protagonists greatest gift is a willingness to work, study and figure out his place in the Universe.

Most importantly... the story works. The plot is a well done coming of age saga with desperate personal consequences if the protagonist fails. Ishmael is a fish out of water viewpoint character, so his interaction with other crew members reveals the inner workings of their social dynamic. Unlike Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy the crew lacks a handy anthropologist to explain crew interactions, but Ishmael's classical education (and introspection) provide the reference points a contemporary reader needs to explore the crew relationships. You learn to care about the new crew members and anticipate their personal transformation into full members of the ships community. The author is former Coast Guard and undoubtedly his life experience weaves a realistic shipboard stage for the action to unfold.

Authors voice is workman-like and provides the critical transparency necessary to allow the plot to shine. There is an appropriate amount of humor mixed in for a non-comedic novel. Engineering principles and necessary economic principles are foreshadowed and then developed to nicely enhance the story. Plot twists are well integrated into the logic of the story. The editing appeared flawless to my eye.

The book itself is a trade paperback purchased at Balticon 45 in the dealers room for slightly less than the cover price of $11.95 and worth every penny. The full color cover art by Michael J. Sullivan reminds one of the opening credits of Red Dwarf, but in a good down-home portrait of a star ship sort of way. The publisher tags this book as “SciFi/Space Opera” on the cover, which is a bit misleading, because it is better than that description would lead serious SF readers to believe. This book started existence as a podcast and in its audio incarnation the series won the Parsec Award.

I recommend this book and have already expressed my admiration for this work by purchasing and reading the next two books in the series, Half Share and Full Share. They continue the story, and if anything, are stronger novels.

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