Monday, August 17, 2009

August CSFFBT: Offworld, by Robin Parrish (I)

This is the first of three posts (in keeping with the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour guidelines) about Offworld. This one will focus on technical details, story-crafting, and characterization; in following posts, I intend to talk about the science and science-fiction aspects of the work and finish up with a post on the Christian elements.

(If I actually manage to do all those posts, it will be two months in a row, which is a trend. ooooo, I'd be trendy!)

What you need to know about Offworld: Space-exploration-centric SF/action, set on Earth. Multi-gender, multi-ethnic cast. (Well, kinda. Sort of. The characters aren't all Caucasian males! And the parameters of the story actually support those choices.) Part-Gulf-Coast traveloge, large part post-apoc thriller, small part X-files tie-in. Adult relationships, but nearly zero sex/erotica. Large amount of gunplay and skull-duggery. Fast-moving, once it gets going.

Packaging: - Slick. Very slick. About as proffesionally sf-ish as you can get. (The cover reminds me a great deal of Neil Gaiman's American Gods.) (Also of This Present Darkness). Tri-crome cover (black, grey-blue and ivory)shows an empty highway leading across a flatland to a skyscraper city. Back cover is mostly black. Title - and this is the kewl part - title is one word, centered over a sliver of a arc, as if a sphere (or a planet!) edged by an approaching dawn.

Short, non-spoilerly reaction - I liked this one. (Not loved, not adored, liked.) I didn't have to work at liking it. The action was uneven, and I would have spent more depth on the travelouge part of the book. The characters were engaging, if a bit stock, and I appreciated the fair-but-negative treatment of the villian(s). There were adult (note: term includes more than sex) aspects to the characters and their relationships that I greatly appreciated. Christian/faith elements were present but not overpowering.

Longer reaction, with spoilers

What I liked:

- I do like post-apoc books. And this one is all that in spades.

- And space exploration! On other planets!

- The plot managed to anticipate several eye-rolling moments (sample: oh, for crying out loud, why is the magic glowy cloud in the USA? there is the entire rest of the world to explore! and turn them around into integral parts of the story. Ditto the 'lost guy on the surface of Mars' subplot. Good job on that!

- I really liked the tensions and stupid fights and testosterone duels and saving-each-other-right-back of the crew. I really liked that. They were a team on a mission, and the story never lost track of that. Plus, they made me laugh more than once.

- The bad guys were trying to do the right thing. I appreciate that. They were very very wrong, but they weren't doing it to be rich or famous. (Just trying to be God. If you're going to fail, fail big.)

- I like traveloge stories, especially ones about the South.

- The inclusion of Mae, and who she was, was awesome. To top it off, I thought the topic (abortion) was very well handled, without demonizing.

- Low-key hand of God: Sometimes, like in the book of Ester, you see God most clearly when He's hard to discern. This book was like that.

- Multi-pov stories can be a pain. So can multi-threaded plots. Parrish handled both of them well, I thought. In particular, I was kept 'hooked' on the book by the bits that each character thought or did out of sight of the others.

What didn't work so well for me:

- Stock characterization: The characters seemed a hair too predictable: Hard-nosed commander, tough-as-nails loyal second in command, clown/younger brother, wildcard. There have been books where I *knew* what a character was going to say/do, because the author had made that character live so well for me. Offworld was a bit closer to knowing what the character was going to say because I'd read this book before a dozen times.

- Not enough science love. (I'll hit on this in more depth in a later post.) This was one of the big weakness of the book for me - mostly because it seemed to be a weakeness in characterization of all the astronaunts.

- I would really have liked more introspection from the characters on the landscape they passed, instead of just barreling down I-10. (But that's just my pref. I suspect it would have bored other people to tears.)

- While the action kept me reading, there were a couple points (like the jumping from the lighthouse) (heck, like the run for the lighthouse!) that had me just shaking my head, going it would never happen like that. Also, I never figured out how the storm surge/flooding was supposed to work. There were a couple of other places where the strength of the story was insufficent to overcome my disbelief of what I was being told.

- I loved The X-Files, back in the day. But TXF was not SF. Ancient mystical boxes that power universe-shifting machinery make my eyes roll. (Sorry.)


Hmmm. This is a bit shallower than I thought it would be. Might add more later, if deeper thunks happen.

Or I might just go check out what other people have to say.


Fine print:

Find Offworld at Amazon.

Robin Parrish’s Web site -
Robin Parrish’s blog -

Other CSFFBT participants:

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Heather R. Hunt
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Mike Lynch
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Elizabeth Williams


Keanan Brand said...

Good review. Living in the Midsouth (do most folks even know that term?), and having traveled through some of the states and cities mentioned in the book, I could actually visualize where the characters were on their journey, which added to my interest in the story.

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

I love how much you cover in so few words, plus all those touches of personality. Good stuff :). Agreed on almost all points, except, if I was being chased by storms and bad guys and spooky black clouds, I would probably barrel down I-10 without stopping to smell the flowers, and I am VERY introspective :). Looking forward to your next post!

Kerani said...

Keanan -

'MidSouth' isn't a word I use - mostly I say 'Gulf Coast'. And I had fun imagining the crew coming up on the Mobile underpass, which was always a highlight of the trip for us kids.

Rachel -

I agree, the bad stuff would kinda keep the mind on the here and now! But if I was trying to get to Houston, and there were black clouds off-shore, I'm move inland!

Thank you both for stopping by!