While I’ve long seen him around the Mad Genius Club environs and have enjoyed the posts at his own site, I had not read anything of Peter Grant’s until the western Brings the Lightning, and Take the Star Road is, after all this time, only the second book of his I’ve read.
Steve Maxwell is an orphan, born on a deeply socialist earth that is in danger, due to most of the smarter and more driven (K-selected?) people leaving for other colonies, of becoming a backwater. Despite the reverence still held for “Old Home Earth” – the signs are there. Fortunately his parents ensured a modicum of good schooling in their affairs, and Steve is a driven man who wants off his homeworld, to make his way among the stars.
As the book opens, Steve is closing out a night washing dishes and closing up an orbital, cargo terminal bar as a part time worker. Leaving, he and the owner are attacked, and Steve helps fight them off, saving the owners life, to discover they are members of a local Tong, the Lotus Tong. Out of gratitude, the owner first takes him on full time, then arranges to get him an apprentice slot with a merchant spacer he trusts. And so Steve’s journey begins.
The characters are amazing, and, when one dies later in the book, it has a huge emotional impact. The story – a youth-coming-of-age story – is tight and well told. The action, when it comes, is brutal but not glorified to the point of violence porn, understandable given Mr Grant’s background as a veteran and a preacher.
The weakest point is the dialog. I both read and listened, in turns, having purchased both the Kindle and Audible versions. The narrator was excellent, but the “golly” and “gee” routine was a bit jarring for me as a son of a Marine and veteran sailor, given the universe of the book, but understandable with the target audience and Mr. Grant’s sensibilities. The biggest issue, again, more noticeable when narrated as you have more time to take in the words and stilted sentences stand out more, was the over-explanatory and stilted nature of the dialog.
The world Maxwell inhabits includes jump drives, reactionless drives, antigrav and artificial gravity, and tractor beams, whereas projectile weapons are the shipboard weapons of the day, and missiles the weapons of choice for pirates and major naval ships. The attention to detail, and “how things work” shows. Despite the stilted nature of the dialog, it does explain why things work, numerous aspects of ship design and operational procedures, all of it to a level of detail comparable to the pages spent in Have Space Suit Will Travel detailing the design and operation of vacuum suits. Also, the reasons make sense, and matter in either how the story unfolds or how characters behave, and why.
It can be a bit unsettling to read an author in reverse order, even if the two books have nothing to do with each other, when they display such a large progression in skill and craft. Nevertheless, despite the dialog issues I had, I quickly finished this book, taking full advantage of “whispersync” to either listen to it via audio or to read it on a Kindle, getting through it as fast as I could. The story and characters are memorable in their own right, the story engaging, and despite the clunky dialog you can see the gold of his later works already shining through, ready to be revealed in greater clarity and polish.
I highly recommend it, and will gladly continue the series. It also shows that his western was not a fluke.