Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Convergent Space by John-Paul Cleary, a science fiction epic that takes place among the stars and worlds of interstellar space.
Characters: Convergent Space follows the perilous adventures of its Earthling heroine Ronelle, and her symbiotic “companion” Necessity, a sentient palm-sized flying mechanical device.
As Ronelle and Necessity crisscross the galaxy, they encounter an imaginative assortment of alien beings, including Phlegars and Tronans, and Nerferites — denizens of the doomed planet Nerfery.
John-Paul describes his aliens well. Here’s Crimp, rescued from Nerfery by Rone, Necessity and their traveling companion Tihn Forlihn, who they picked up during a visit to a Phlegar burn ship.
He was a striking figure. His hair was black and coarse like an animal’s and his face was bright scarlet. He was very thin and was much taller than she was, with long spindly arms that ended in oversized seven-fingered hands. He had no eyelashes or eyelids.
John-Paul does a better job describing aliens than he does with his human characters. Rone has short dark hair, and is described by another character later in the book as pretty, but that’s about all we get for physical description of Rone.
However, the characters’ action, dialogue and backstories, main to minor, are all good.
Here, Rone and Necessity talk about the new set of orders that launch them on their adventure:
Necessity chuckled. ‘So we get off this floating fish bowl after all.’
‘You’re pleased about this aren’t you?’
‘Come on Rone, it will be fun. You don’t have to look on it as The Search. It’s just another adventure. A chance to see more of the galaxy, a bit of excitement.’
‘I’ve seen the galaxy. That’s not what I want anymore. People’s lives are affected and for what?’
‘We’ll be careful.’
‘You know that’s not always possible.’
‘Well I’m looking forward to it.’
Rone shook her head. She and Necessity may have been together since birth, led the exact same life and had virtually all the same memories, but somehow they had become very different people who wanted very different things. Maybe it was because Necessity was a machine, a sentient machine but still a machine; whereas she was a woman, a humanoid female who’d been denied the normal life any woman could expect and whose overriding aim was to snatch (and hold onto) the few precious snippets of normality that came her way.
Plot: Rone, an archeo-soldier on extended leave, gets orders to rejoin “The Search,” an all-consuming effort by planet Earth to prove that Earth’s military did not cause “The Great Wave,” an interstellar tsunami of destructive energy that wrecked much of the galaxy 200 years before. On her quest through the galaxy, she encounters all the beauty, oddity and deadly danger of a journey through a galaxy swarming with intelligent and sometimes malignant life.
Setting: The galaxy. I know that doesn’t exactly narrow the field. John-Paul’s epic takes us from the inside of alien spaceships to the starscapes of far-off worlds, both inhabited and desolate. His settings are as much a main character of the novel as any of the protagonists.
Here, on their way to rescue Rone and Necessity from the bad guys, Tihn and company stop off at an unnamed planet, home of a long-dead terrorist society.
It was dark. It was arid. It was lifeless, cold and bleak. Sharp peaks of slate-grey mountains clawed up from the surface into the cloudless black sky like angry talons grasping for some motive to their existence beyond simply a perpetual display of austerity. Down on the surface itself, the mountain ranges bounded desolate dust bowls. Untouched virgin sands stretched for hundreds of miles from the base of one mountain range to another and had drifted into long grey swirling dunes that begged to be walked on and touched and explored.
Note the description using verb and simile — “Sharp peaks of slate-grey mountains clawed up from the surface into the cloudless black sky like angry talons grasping…”
He also uses personification with the mountains, like angry talons “grasping for some motive,” and dunes “that begged…” Makes for vivid colorful scenes.
I like stories that take me to unusual places and show me wonders. Convergent Space does in virtually every paragraph.
What I thought could’ve been done better: First, there are a few typos. Not many. Not like some indies I’ve read. Certainly not enough to spoil the read. But who needs any at all?
The story begins with a vivid battle scene on an alien world. It’s well-written, colorful and action-packed. I feel it has a minor clarity issue in that it takes many pages for John-Paul to reveal that the combatants are humanoids.
The descriptions of actions and weapons are great, but it is a world not Earth, so what kind of creatures are at war? Turns out they’re humanoid, but why make the reader wonder for so long? Minor issue, and again not a deal-breaker. After that first scene, John-Paul does a good job orienting the reader to exactly who and what is conducting the action of each scene. Clarity wasn’t an issue anywhere else.
This next point could really be argued with. I’m arguing with myself about whether or not it’s valid, in fact. But it occurs to me, and I can’t easily dismiss so I’ll mention it — even though I’m a touch uncomfortable with it since it’s so subjective.
First, I’ll state again, I really enjoyed this book. But I think without a love-interest, it didn’t have all the dimension it might have. Most great epics have at least an element of love, science fiction or otherwise, from Star Wars to Dr. Zhivago. I come to this conclusion from watching James bond movies and reading the books. Hardly chick-flicks or chick-Lit, but in the end, deal with love, the most powerful and profound of emotions.
On the other hand, one of my favorite film epics, “Lawrence of Arabia,” did not have an element of love. So, just an observation. Valid observation? I’ll have to leave that to you.
What I thought was good: Tons. First, if I didn’t make it clear in the Characters section, the characters are rich and spectacular. Yes, Rone might’ve had a little more physical description, but for the rest, John-Paul brings alien life-forms into lavish life.
The writing is wonderful. Vivid, colorful and action-packed, the story has a lot of active voice, vivid verbs, simile and metaphor.
Here’s an excerpt from the opening battle sequence I mentioned earlier.
There was a deafening bang, louder, deeper and longer than all the earlier explosions put together. There was nothing to see at first then the city itself came alive. It stirred like an animal stretching after a long sleep. Everything was moving, sliding and pulling away from everything else. The city wall was crumbling away and a few buildings toppled, sending great clouds of dust into the air. Then the city split right down the middle. The two halves started falling away from each other in slow motion.
A collective gasp went up from the soldiers on the battlefield like a crowd in a sports stadium. They watched powerlessly as the last city on Mera-Mar – their one great prize, their raison d’être – began to crumble.
That brings me to the next thing I liked — the combination of epic scale and personal experience. Rone’s quest spans the galaxy. There are space battles encompassing light years of distance, and enzymes that destroy all planetary life.
There are also more personal dangers like tiny waterborne organisms that devour anything organic, like people. And although John-Paul is adept at presenting giant space battles and planetary-sized catastrophes, he’s just as good with bickering characters.
Overall: Convergent Space is a splendid, imaginative romp through the galaxy. If it lacks a little in the romance department, the characters are still engaging, the pace is quick, and the stakes are as high as they can be.
And if it’s wonders you seek, like I do, you’ll find them here.
Good job, John-Paul!