New to Me: Review of Quarter Share by Nathan Lowell
(New to Me books are books I’ve just read that have been out for more than a year – whether that means “a year and a bit” or “several decades”.)
Where I got it and why: as a free audiobook from podiobooks.com. You can get it too! My dad has been recommending this series to me for a while, so when I finally got sick of listening to the radio on my half-hour daily commute, I loaded this onto my mp3 player. I’m glad I did.
Recommended? Sure, especially if you like character-driven narratives.
Review: Sometimes you just need a book where the fate of the world isn’t at stake, where people are not exceptional superheroes, where you can just kick back and hang out with some fun characters. This is that book.
Ishmael Wang’s life has been turned upside-down: his mother has just been killed in an accident, and since she was a company employee on a company planet, he now has thirty days to either become a company employee or vacate his company apartment. There are no company jobs available, so good luck! At a loss for what else to do, he heads down to the union hall and signs on for a quarter-share berth on one of the big solar freighters, and his new life begins.
Quarter Share is the story of Ishmael getting settled in to his new life on the Lois McKendrick, a solar clipper moving goods from one planetary system to another. He’s assigned a berth in the galley, and quickly makes friends with Cookie the chef and Pip Carstairs, the other quarter-share in the galley. (Berths are rated by the share of the profits they take: the lowest rank is quarter-share, up through half-share to full-share and then into officer country.)
This is an incredibly laid-back entry into the Hornblower In Space genre. Really, it’s not very like Hornblower at all – although it’s clearly derived from that kind of series, these are traders and merchants, not battleships. The plot revolves around the development of Ishmael and Pip’s trading ventures, and the most external conflict you get is a mugging and a bar fight, neither on screen.
It’s not boring, though. Ishmael, Pip, and Cookie are fun (if somewhat unbelievably good-natured: no one ever gets cross or impatient with one another), and there’s a fine cast of secondary characters that grows throughout the book. As a narrative, the book has some of the flaws of the serial format it was released in, with people being properly introduced much later than you might expect them to be and a fairly clumsy handling of foreshadowing, but it’s not too bad.
While Quarter Share and the sequel Half Share are now being released in print, I think I’d still prefer them as audiobooks. The author reads it himself, and he has a wonderful reading voice, very soothing and well-matched to the style of the narrative. Cookie’s accent changes dramatically about halfway through, which is a little disconcerting, but overall he does a great job with the variety of characters.
Overall I really enjoyed this slice-of-life story of life on board a solar clipper, full of appealing characters and actually very accessible discussions of profits and trading. There are six books in the series, and I already have Half Share loaded up and ready to go. If you’re interested in checking them out, the author has a website for the series, with all the books available for free download, at SolarClipper.com.