Book Review: The Fringe Worlds (The Human Chronicles Book One) by T.R. Harris
As promised, here is the next installment of my monthly book reviews. And, also as promised, I made not only an attempt to work in an indie book, but I actually did work one in (I picked this one because the second book in the series got the link-love in an an i09 article on science fiction books that TGM was also in—they used my cover art!). So, I tried it. And, I loved it. Again. That’s two good indie reads in a row. So, here’s my review of The Fringe Worlds (Book one of The Human Chronicles) by T.R. Harris:
Let me begin by repeating my previous sentiments of adoration for this book. It’s fun, fast, funny and, well, it’s a good story. In super short set up: it’s about a human (hence the Human Chronicles thing) that ends up in The Fringe (hence the Fringe Worlds thing), which is a really cool and interestingly designed bit of the galaxy filled with a variety of alien species all competing for space, power and wealth in a sector dominated by the Juireans, the most dominant of the lot, an empire and epic bureaucracy.
The main character, Adam, is a Navy SEAL who suddenly finds himself amongst all these alien people and, like John Carter of Mars a hundred years ago in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books (cool long before the movie came out, which apparently bombed–GG Disney), discovers he’s got some racial advantages. I won’t go any further into the story than that, because I hate spoilers probably more than most people, so, I’ll leave off just by setting up the general principle. It’s got a good action-ready premise and an interesting and efficiently constructed setting and history.
This book has puffs of brilliance that remind me of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, etc., (and can’t help wonder if that’s got anything to do with the protagonist’s name). The Fringe Worlds has got humor in it in places that are definitely in the same flavor, and I found myself laughing out loud several times.
The plot design itself is simple and to the point, the narrative style is direct, no frills, something of a poor man’s sci-fi Hemingway if I can exaggerate just a little out of my fondness for this book. Harris doesn’t spend any time on narrative frills, and in places the narrative is so direct, it’s simply blunt. I confess that, sometimes, probably too blunt, but the story was good enough to carry past those quickly and easily. Frankly, for the most part, the bluntness really works for the story. A lack of elegance in no way detracts from this story at all. In fact, it suits the setting, the SEAL, the pirates, all of it perfectly. None of that calls for elegant treatment. Too much fluff would make the story absurd, like a pit bull in diamonds and a pink tutu or something. By not pretending the story is anything but a fun romp in space, Harris hits the right rhythm for this book. He took it exactly seriously enough, and not a bit more. A fine job too, because it would have been easy to go too far either way.
If I were going to call out its flaws, which all books have, even mine, though I will deny it if anyone asks me in a public place, I would say there are two. One are the bits of the story where the narrative takes a couple of didactic side roads looking at religion—I won’t say what, but only that, while I think the point he is making works very well for the character and the world, it might be rendered less preachy/anti-preachy if some of that operated in the background. He could do the same thing through story rather than exposition and dialogue serving as exposition.
Speaking of dialogue, the second issue I had was that there are a few places where the dialogue sometimes comes off a bit forced. There were spots where I think he might have gone back through with an eye for individual characters a bit more, choosing diction that was more suited to specific speakers as real and distinct individuals, and maybe even reading some of the statements aloud to see if they fit in the mouth like something someone would say. He may have done that, however, and me, in my know-it-all opinionated self just have a different sense of it than he does. So, as with any criticism, it all must be taken with a grain of salt. I recommend adding a margarita and several more grains of salt, maybe some lime too, but, that’s just me.
I can only imagine how amazing this story would be if some publisher took it on and loved it and gave it some editing. It probably would be the next Hitchhiker’s Guide kind of thing. I certainly think this author has the potential to move that way as he gets better and better with each new book. The bottom line is this is an independently published book, which means, he (I’m assuming T.R. is male given the story’s essentially gendered feel… I believe there is one female character, and, well, you’ll see how that goes) didn’t have the advantage of fancy editors and all the stuff that he would have gotten if he were traditionally published—their loss, your gain all in all. So, while there are a few typos and diction issues in places around the book, there are very few and not enough to prevent anyone from enjoying this story.
If you like adventure, humor, and no-frills space combat action, consider giving The Fringe Worlds a go. I read it in a few hours flat. This sort of book, this delightfully independent work, is where the fun is in this Wild West of writing that the ebook world has become. It’s a world the big publishers created by becoming a bit too inbred and focused on the cash. If you require prosaic perfection and super-high corporate polish, or if you need vast and deep philosophical underpinnings to the books you read, this one might not thrill you much. I, however, enjoy both complex reads and simple fun, and this book is all over the second type. Read with the right attitude, you’ll enjoy this world a lot. He’s got another one out now, and I believe a third is on the way soon. Harris’ website can be found HERE.