Book Review: Salvage Trouble

Salvage Trouble (Black Ocean: Mission One), by J.S. Morin

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by the author in exchange for an honest review.]

About the best thing that can be said for this sub-Firefly story of misfits in space is that it was at least pleasant enough to read, as long as one did not think too hard about the defective moral worldview and authorial worldbuilding of the book, that one did not wish that one had the short amount of time it takes to read this space western back. If it is the equivalent of cotton candy for the mind, it is far less repellant and unpleasant than some books are. That said, before I discuss the plot, it is worth spending time on the worldview, because this is what separates a merely competent storyteller from a novelist worth remembering, regardless of the genre. Quite frankly, the worldbuilding in this novel is defective on a grand level. It manages to combine a naive faith in the power of magic, a wrongheaded view of Christianity, and a view of evolution that seeks to have the positive benefits of intelligent design (in that sentient beings tend to look human-like) without the rigorous understanding of the implications of beings being created in the imago Dei across widely diverse origins and locations. Clearly, this novel has a lot of unexamined presuppositions from its author that hinder the enjoyment of the reader.

And that is without getting to the novel itself. The best thing the novel has going for it is the fact that it has a well-constructed plot and that its cast of characters is appealing. These cover for a lot of flaws, and a lot of cliche, and make the book one that is worthwhile to read once and that even might make it worthwhile to read the remainder of the books in the series if one is looking for somewhat brainless but mildly entertaining fiction. The fact that the book consists of casual blasphemy and profanity is a mark against it that makes the book a lot less enjoyable to read, but such are the marks of those who want to appear gritty as writers without getting down to the brass tacks of a grim view of reality. One gets the feeling that this author is trying to pull a Bujold [1] by imagining a group of characters have the worst things possible happen to them while ending up successful, but that sort of authorial masochism only works well if one has the gift of making something meaningful out of that sort of suffering, rather than creating a group of characters that manage to escape mostly unscathed.

And so, one is left with the reality that this is a novel constructed by someone who is marginally competent as a novelist, whose philosophy and worldview are likely stitched together out of various superficially understood aspects of our contemporary culture, and who confuses crude language and outright blasphemy for psychological realism. How one feels about that will likely be determined by how seriously one takes literature. On a surface level, this is a pleasant caper about a group of misfits seeking to make a living in an unforgiving world, with plenty of backstory and drama, and a readiness to take what life has to offer. On a deeper level, this is immensely depressing material that serves as fairly mediocre genre reading, the sort of book that is praised as being perfect for someone who wants to see Firefly fan fiction. Sometimes, that is enough for a pleasant read, but not the sort of stuff one wants to read as part of a regularly balanced diet. Whether that is good enough for other readers, I leave it to them to decide.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/02/07/restfulness-and-restlessness-in-the-high-vor-class-of-bujolds-a-civil-campaign/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/book-review-miles-errant/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/book-review-young-miles/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/book-review-miles-mystery-mayhem/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/book-review-miles-in-love/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/book-review-miles-mutants-microbes/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Book Review: Salvage Trouble

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Firefly Role-Playing Game | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  5. Shawndroid says:

    Hey there. On Audible they released an omnibus of over 16 stories from this series. Trying to find out if it was worth it I looked for any reviews I could find and found this one. I wasn’t sure exactly what to make of certain things you have said. Having read this story, I think I do now. I thought it was worth replying to this two year old post, even if just for fun!

    I had forgotten this review was only of the first story, as I am currently reading the 4th story.

    Quite frankly, the worldbuilding in this novel is defective on a grand level. It manages to combine a naive faith in the power of magic, a wrongheaded view of Christianity, and a view of evolution that seeks to have the positive benefits of intelligent design (in that sentient beings tend to look human-like) without the rigorous understanding of the implications of beings being created in the imago Dei across widely diverse origins and locations. Clearly, this novel has a lot of unexamined presuppositions from its author that hinder the enjoyment of the reader.

    I must admit that I’m unaware of the currenting thinking of people in the image of God being created across widely diverse origins and locations. I don’t know what the ‘understanding’ on that point is, or how valid it is. But a sort-of but not-really spoiler for the fourth story: There are many Earth-like planets in the galaxy. Not like the Star Trek ‘M Class’ planets with a similar atmosphere and vegetation. I mean exact Earth replicas on a geological scale. All the crew members of the ship come from a planet that is just like Earth, but a difference species became sapient. This is seen by many people in the fictional galaxy as evidence for God and his divine plan, intelligent design or theistic evolution. Thinking back I believe there was references to this that I missed because they were so subtle.

    On the other hand, in biology and natural evolution, some think that across different planets similar environments will produce similar results. Consider marsupials and mammals having convergent evolution. (Though, of course, we haven’t found life on any other planet.)

    https://www.scienceworld.ca/blog/placental-mammals-and-their-marsupial-counterparts

    http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/marsupial/marsupial.html

    The charge that it has a wrongheaded view of Christianity should be seen as a strength. Even in the first century and certainly the second century, there were competing views of Christianity: for example, gnosticism, docetism and arianism. Even today you have arminians and calvinists, as well as reformers and orthodox. The idea that in the future, a new church would appear with different doctrines than the one you believe are true is incredibly likely. Also, the One Church seems kind of evil to me with the whole genetic engineering thing. By their fruits you will know them. So I don’t really see why that would be an objection.

    My last point is the naive faith in the power of magic. I don’t know if you mean something very specific when you say naive faith with respect to magic. But first, let me be clear: this is a fantasy novel set in a futuristic setting. Between Earth-like planets and wizards who clearly, effectively have specific powers, the fact of magic in this universe cannot be denied. So they don’t have naive faith as in unthinking, evidence-free or blind belief. They have a reasonable belief based on past experience of the results of wizards.

    If, on the other hand, you mean something about the source of this power and the implications of using it, the people in the world seem divided. Some thinking it’s a gift from god to be used, and others see it as a taint. That reflects beliefs today. Many people believe that fortentellers are from God, while others think it’s part of a Satanic occult. The wizard himself is morally ambivalent at best, killing large numbers of people on a whim rather than discriminately.

    I don’t know how well thought out it is. But the depicted society seems just as conflicted and tribal as ours is and with an ambiguous setting that allows both sides to claim evidence for their beliefs.

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