Contract of Defiance: Proof of Indy Quality

Ok… it’s February, and I’m a few hours late, but after a month off I’m starting up the blog engine again.  I have a few topics lined up for the next month or so… undead, how to build a dark lord, violence and action scenes, and book covers… but today I’m going to start with something different.

After the release of Lightfall, I got onto twitter (@kscottlewis) and started making connections with other indy/e-writers and editors.  Through the course of meeting a few of them, I downloaded some of their books to start checking out what the indy e-market is like.  Now, I will say that I haven’t bit on any of the free promos, and I don’t go browsing for random cheap ebooks.  If a writer’s tweet feed was moderately interesting, they were willing to carry on a conversation, and posted more than just variations of ‘read my book’, then I looked at their work.  It’s slow… I’ve only read 4 so far, and now Robert Jordan has consumed my reading time, but I’ve learned something interesting: the myth that traditional publishing=quality and indy/self publishing=no quality is false.

Let me digress a little bit more before I get into the meat of it.  I like reading for entertainment, especially when I’m downrange.  Now, I think good sci-fi and fantasy will both provide entertainment, and be thought provoking.  But, there are times when I just want a good, fun read.  The “good, fun read” category fits most of my franchise reading, whether it’s Star Wars, Mass Effect, Aliens books, etc.  I’m usually drawn because I like the franchise, and if it’s half-way decent, I’ll read the book. (There are bad books published… like a Diablo book I found in the deployment morale tent once.  It should have been awesome, but it was tedious).

Until ebooks, all books (at least all those in bookstores, and those that made their way to libraries and morale tents) were published through traditional publishing means.  Traditional publishing, just like the music industry, involves large chain of people between the writer and the reader, all of whom have to get paid.  The publishers will tell you that you need them (and at one time, it was true).  They also provide a service to the readers in that they act as a quality filter to weed out the crap (epublishing makes it easy for a writer to give crap to a reader).  Music industry said the same thing.

Now, for some reason, indy bands have enjoyed the respect of listeners, as a concept, longer than indy writers.  There seems to be more of a lingering stigma with indy writers as people who gave up, are taking the easy path, or are “vanity publishing”.  (I hate that term for the modern emarket–it implies that indy writers aren’t ‘real’ writers).

I think some of that stigma is changing now.  I’ve read 4 books, as I said, and all were good reads (some better than others).  I’ve picked up traditional published books that are utter crap… and of course, trad publishing has stellar works as well.  At this point, I think the best of the best is still probably from trad publishers (my opinion may change as I read more indy writing), but publishers give you wide spectrum of quality.  It’s probably also true that in the mix of indy writing, there is a higher concentration of crap than a comparative look at trad publishing.  However, if you’re not looking for those high quality, deep gems that straddle the line between literature and speculative fiction (and even on the bookshelves, those are few and far between), then I’m not sure I see the need for the traditional publishing engine anymore.  If what you’re wanting is entertainment, fun SF, and fun fantasy, I’m finding there’s enough indy out there to bypass the middle man.

Now, when I evaluate a book, especially an indy book, I tend to grade on a curve.  Frank Herbert’s Dune is 5/5 stars, and when I give a 5/5 rating to an Indy book, I’m not saying they’re on the same level.  I ask myself, “Did the author do what he or she set out to accomplish?  Was the author successful in building the desired story, and making it enjoyable and engaging for me as a reader?”

Of the four I’ve read, one in particular stood out for the level of polish and quality in the writing:  Contract of Defiance, by Tammy Salyer.  I thought her writing stood toe to toe with the likes of Christie Golden, R.A. Salvatore, and better than Richard Knaack. (Yes, she’s sci-fi, and I’m comparing her to fantasy franchise authors, but only because I know their writing).

So, without further ado…

Review:  Contract of Defiance (Spectras Arise Trilogy 1) by Tammy Salyer

Opening chapters are clean and tight.  As the world opens up with the protagonist’s interactions with the crew, I’m reminded of Mass Effect books and watching Firefly.  The opening sure has a professional flare that is reminiscent of the Mass Effect books I’ve read.

What is particularly strong in the opening is that Ms. Salyer doesn’t just give us a general, formless ship to explore.  She pays attention to the world details of the tech, but she does it in such a way that is intimate to the reader’s fused perspective with the first-person narrator.  It’s world building that doesn’t distract from the action, and given that this is something I struggle with in my own writing, I appreciate how she pulls it off.

The entire reads with high polish, and nothing slows you down.  The central theme of the book is action, and the space crew’s struggle reads like a military adventure.  In some ways, the sci-fi setting is almost incidental.  More important to the story is the immediate situation challenging Aly, who finds herself captured by a potentially hostile crew while her brother is left behind.  Her main goal is to get away from those who captured her–even though they are not hostile towards her, and their capture more of a rescue, they bring complications and stand in the way of her getting back to her old crew and rescuing her brother.  And, as the story unfolds and she grows closer with the new team, we find that she’s also worried about the complications she brings to them.

By the end of the book, I had a good feel for the tech-level:  it’s gritty sci-fi, a vision of current real-world tech projected into the future.  Guns use ammunition and need to be cleaned (the author is prior military, appreciates firearms, and it shows), and there are no flashy phasers or other “super-sci-fi/near-magic” effects.  Except FTL travel, but that’s to be expected.

I’m interested to read further, for this is obviously the first part of a serial adventure.  I hope that the future books start to give character to the world and not just the characters themselves.

This book is for people who want a gritty, gun-filled action adventure set in an outer-space frontier setting.  If you like sci-fi with a military squad feel (even though the crew is a rag-tag band of smugglers), this is the read for you.

Verdict:  5/5, Pulp Sci-Fi action at its finest.

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