Aetna Adrift — Indie Science Fiction and Scoundrels

Aetna Adrift

When it comes to self-published science fiction, I’ve downloaded and started a number of non-traditionally published books. Key word — started. As in… not finished. There are definitely a number of gems to be found in the growing number of indie books out there, but in my experience the ratio of bad to good for self-publishing seems to be about 100:1. That’s not to say that the traditional publishing world doesn’t produce some bad stories, but I’ve found the ratio to be completely opposite… about 1 bad book in every 100 that has made it through the gauntlet of editors (and possibly an agent or two).

What this means to me is that when I do find a good self-published science fiction book, I really feel a strong need to share it with the world. Even better, when I know the author and feel absolutely no resistance to sharing said book because it’s a colleague’s book? Double win! One for readers, and one for my friend.

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Erik Wecks is a fellow writer for GeekDad and a friend. I will admit to being reluctant to reading his newest story. Anytime I’m asked to read something a friend has written, I get nervous. What if it’s not so great? What if it’s 100% rotten? Thankfully, about 1/3 of the way into Aetna Adrift: The Complete Story, my concerns vanished. Erik is a bona fide science fiction writer, and it is my extreme pleasure to get to review it.

Aetna Adrift introduces readers to Jack Halloway; Jack’s currently residing on Aetna, an icy, ocean-covered moon that’s really nothing more than a way station for ships moving through the system via a gate system. It also happens to provide both fuel (hydrogen) and fish to Unity, one of the many governing bodies that are ultimately ruled over by the Pax Imperium. Unity keeps trying to promote Jack to an executive level position, and he’s now turned down the promotion eight times. Jack has no interest in moving up and into the political issues the promotion would throw at him, and why should he? He’s currently managing Aetna’s black market system and is quite good at it.

Unity controls everything — jobs, housing, even entertainment. But folks know who to turn to for the specialty items and favors when they need them, and Jack has developed quite the reputation for being close-lipped and certainly no friend of Unity. But all that changes when the current Aetna administrator (who also enjoys using Jack’s services) is demoted and a new admin calls up a list of just about every black market transaction that Jack’s ever handled. Jack’s given an ultimatum — help me or face execution. (Unity has the death penalty for just about anything and everything that goes against Unity policies.)

At first, Jack realizes he he has no choice in the matter and must play ball. But the Unity administrator has hidden motives for his being on Aetna, and as Jack begins to discover just how far Unity will go for profits and promotions, he finds that he can no longer accept Unity policies. Fortunately, non-Unity parties have been keeping their eyes on Unity for some time, and Jack is about to find out that he’s got some allies as he begins his transition from scoundrel to hero.

Aetna Adrift is my kind of story. I’m a big fan of the scoundrel… someone who may skirt the law but also can be counted on to do the right thing when the time comes. Jack is a well-written character, complete with quirks and flaws and solid reasons for his actions. The minor characters are also well-developed and have their own motivations for either supporting Jack or working against him.

Characters aside, Erik hasn’t skimped on what I feel is a major weakness with many self-published novels — either overly detailed backgrounds on EVERYTHING or not enough. Erik provides just enough details on Aetna and its oceans and icy conditions without it becoming cumbersome to read. The same goes for his explanation of Jack’s black market system — Erik holds back on the economic details that would make you yawn and instead focuses on the fun stuff such as how the items are requested and fulfilled and just a hint of the bigger conspiracy needed to pull it all off. Less than 50 pages into the book and you’ll have a solid grasp of the major characters, the world they inhabit, and their day-to-day duties that are all going to be upset when a small moon that no one really cares about becomes the focal point of a rebellion that will shake things up in the Pax Imperium.

The book has it all — conspiracy, humor, politics, economics, fishing subs and cargo haulers, destroyers, rebels, spies, and government paper pushers. But it also has great pacing, excellent dialogue, and a story that doesn’t overreach its boundaries and try to do too much.

I have to congratulate Erik. I love reviewing good stories, and being able to recommend a friend’s book is just icing on the cake. Grab a digital copy for $3.99 while you can — Erik’s writing and plotting is right up there with the traditionally published writers, and I suspect that Erik could easily make the jump to a publishing house with the Aetna novel. (Erik’s style of writing reminds me of one of my favorite scifi writers, Jack McDevitt, who focuses less on the technology and more on character development early in a story.)

Erik’s got a bigger story to tell about the Pax Imperium, and what’s interesting is that he took a pause in that story to write Aetna Adrift: The Complete Story. He explains at the end of Aetna that he felt the need to provide some background and explanation for the happenings in his upcoming story, and Aetna Adrift is what happened when he began to write. He hints at some of the characters that will make the transition to this upcoming story — Jack has some unfinished business to deal with, and I cannot wait to read more.

Note: Erik provided me with a copy of Aetna Adrift: The Complete Story for this review.

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James Floyd Kelly is a full-time writer. His latest three books are Digital Engineering with Minecraft, Tinkercad for Beginners and The Ultimate iPad. Learn more by visiting his website http://jamesfloydkelly.com