(2004) Martin Sketchley, Simon & Schuster, £10.99, trd pbk, 306 pp, ISBN 0-743-25734-0
By the early 24th century social breakdown has led to a teo class world of the technologically cushioned rich and the rest who live in a Philip Dick like rundown world. A military dictaroship headed by General Myson rules. Myson seeks to marry an alien Seriatt, to form the basis of a political alliance. He sends a disgraced military secret agent, Delgado, to fetch his bride who has sought shelter with a religious group on another World and so off we go.
This is a space opera romp complete with alien species, huge space stations, battles with spectacle and so forth. For all of this, it is a decidedly light weight affair that for those into space opera makes for a passingly pleasant read. However the more discerning folk who demand that their plot elements tie together may find that The Affinity Trap tends to fall apart, a bit like the old spaceship the wealthy general gives his agent for the important mission. (Couldn't he afford better?) The alien Seriatt are a three sexed race, though the biological rationale for this is completely limp, as it is included solely as plot colouring. (It does not even have the status of plot device.) The key plot developments are less than convincing. The agent seduces (is seduced by?) the bride-to-be, but would the agent risk this or alternatively if he was likely to be seduced surely he would have been warned by Myson? Then there is inter-species breeding which has all the explanation that Star Trek gives it. Sketchley can certainly string a sentence together and some of the action scenes do carry you along but over all this is a far from classy work: Banks does it so much better.
This is Sketchley's first novel. The man clearly has some knowledge of how to create prose but, dear me, the plot has so many holes and unconvincing elements I was positively glad to come to the book's end. I hate to be so critical of a first novel but this is the second time this year I have come across a poorly thought out debut novel. What is it with publishers? Maybe there is a market for this kind of thing and perhaps twenty five years ago this might have been passable. However the genre has developed since then. Maybe the publishers are keen to foster talent. Well I hope that Sketchley is worth it. As indicated there are some good signs that he might, but should we be subjected to this meanwhile? Those commissioning him have not, to my mind done him any favours. Certainly if ever I turn to writing fiction I hope that publishers will be honest with me. In fact I have once tried to write a novel but fortunately my friends are friends and told me it was crap. They did me a service, and this is one reason why I always try to be honest in my reviews. At the very least I hope that Sketchley was told that his being published was a bit of a gamble. If of course he does sell then I clearly have misjudged the market. Certainly speculative fiction is currently dominated by fantasy and light on space opera and hard SF. Maybe this is causing publishers to gamble? If so I hope they advised Sketchley to use a pen name.
Nonetheless, I hope the man learns and gets a second crack. There are some promising signs.
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