Star Shroud: Ascension, Book 1, by Ken Lozio

There are several sins or bad habits that writers can fall into, especially science fiction writers. This book by Ken Lozito is guilty of at least two.

The first, that’s common to both science fiction and thriller writers, is the information dump. There are two ways that sci-fi writers use this. Usually the reader sees it in the science info dump. This is where a writer will take anywhere from a paragraph to several pages to stop everything to describe the science behind contraptions used in the story. “William touched the megalator. Megalators had been introduced by the Fingians 232 years before. This device ….) And the next thing you know you’re trying to power your way through technology that exists nowhere other than the author’s mind and in a few theoretical physics papers. This tends to break the Arthur C. Clarke insight that any technology sufficiently advanced will seem like magic. So why bother?

The info dump can also take place with characters. This can happen in almost any genre, but it seems to particularly show up in sci-fi and thrillers. This is where every time we meet a new character we get their full bio. “Harry looked at Jill. She was blonde and full-busted, with a belt that showed her Texas roots and that she’d worn almost every day since she’d left Amarillo after having a light brush with the law. They’d made fun of it when she made it to University of Minnesota to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an anthropologist …..” This breaks the cardinal “show don’t tell” rule and by the end of a paragraph we’ll learn things that may never show up in the book again. It’s just there to show that the author thought this character out … but not enough to be a real person.

This series-opening book is filled with this kind of stuff as we follow a computer hacker who exposes a secret that has been held by NASA for several decades: that there’s a structure on Pluto. He gets dragged in by the feds for questioning. The next thing you know he’s invited, with minimal training, to take part in a mission originally aimed at Triton but will now continue on to Pluto. Many adventures and Uranus jokes ensue.

The book then commits what is an even greater sin, as it mistreats the reader and is done in the hopes of generating sales rather than reader loyalty. Instead of a book that comes to a full conclusion, with the assumption that there will be great things to follow in the next volume, the book ends in a cliffhanger. That turns it more into a Saturday morning serial than a book.

If you’re a fan of the 1940s, of both cliffhanger serials and SF writers needing to describe every calculation to reach Mars, then this is your kind of book. Otherwise, there are so many new science fiction writers that they almost crowd out fans at conventions. The author can do better and you can find better.