The Phoenix Conspiracy by Richard Sanders is a science-fiction novel set in a future Universe where mankind has managed to create a sprawling Empire stretching across a huge swath of the galaxy. Opposing them are two rival alien Empires.
On the face of it the Human Empire seems to be largely peaceful. However, a rogue captain attacks an innocent alien civilian convoy and quickly plunges the galaxy to the brink of war.
The hero (I guess I have to call him that), is Lieutenant Commander Calvin, Captain of an Intel Wing ship, which seems to be a sort of futuristic equivalent of the C.I.A. Calvin is tasked with finding this rogue Captain and bringing him to justice.
This he manages to do right at the beginning of the story, but when the Captain is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death everything goes tits up for Calvin. The captain is inexplicably able to take control of his transport ship and makes off into the inky blackness of space.
Calvin is sent off in pursuit. On board his ship though is a brand new XO, and I dont think there has ever been a more hateful character put to paper.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the books good points.
So here are the good points…erm….
It’s free. That’s always a big bonus if you’re looking to try something new.
The first 20-25% of the novel are actually quite good, at more than one point the plot dipped and twisted quite well giving me more than a few surprises. It is also well placed for the most part and never got boring, and to give him his due Calvin has his moments as a compelling well formed hero.
So ye that’s the good stuff. Sadly it’s not exactly a long list.
So anyway down to the bad bits, this part is a little longer I’m afraid.
First I’ll begin with the setting. This novel has a very Star Trek type feel to the Universe, sadly it feels even cheaper than Star Trek the Original series does in retrospect, which is no mean feat considering.
One of the novels weakest points for me was the technology available to our hero. Apparently even though humans have built large lumbering star-ship that blunder their way through the endless darkness of space, they also still rely on basic rifles, this in a universe where force-fields and shields exist. So primitive.
If technology has advance advanced enough to create force-fields why in hell are the marines and Special Forces still shooting piddly little pieces of shrapnel down corridors at alien enemies armed with superior weaponry?
One of the primary reasons I enjoy science-fiction is the creative worlds and technology that adorn their pages. Massive battleships firing highly charged laser beams across countless kilometres of space to crash into invisible shields and dissipate into nothing. Men armoured in huge battle suits and laser guns firing down numerous insectile enemies in narrow corridors filled with smoke and flickering lights. They are the sort of things many people expect from science-fiction, not bullet firing guns that wouldn’t look out of place now, a time where space flight is still in its infancy.
One of the biggest things to do when you write a sci-fi novel is think big, think monumental and go for it, sometimes the more insane the better, we want to see an exciting future full of new and exciting prospects and objects to discover and enjoy.
They even use paper. PAPER! Come on Richard give them an iPad or something. Hell what about giving Calvin a touch sensitive desk that doubles as a computer or a voice activated central computer and holographs. I’m reading about a futuristic human Empire battling for control of the Universe, give them some fun toys to do it with. Not paper. Who wants an intelligence officer buried under paper. I’d stake my life on the fact that the real C.I.A is light years ahead of the technology at the disposal of Calvin and his friends.
Always remember if your writing a science-fiction novel about great galactic wars make it big and make it exciting. Use your creativity.
But I can over-look the lack of any advanced technology, it is the characters that really make me want to pull my hair out.
2 dimensional doesn’t even begin to describe the characters that inhabit the pages of this book. Everyone is a clichéd stereotype, except for Calvin anyway. The women are beautiful and the men can’t help but lose their self-control in their presence. Even when the man and woman are at loggerheads the man will suddenly loses all of his self-control and fall under the spell of the woman.
Let’s look more closely at the two primary characters. Commander Calvin is supposedly a gifted young intelligence officer and brilliant captain. Yet he’s an habitual drug user who is regularly comatose in a drugged stupor when he should be on the bridge.
The first time I read this I couldn’t help but think; “Hold on a second…Why the hell should I care about him then?” And from then on I didn’t like him, I couldn’t have cared less what happened to him, and when the ship was taken from his control I couldn’t help but think he deserved it. And if you lose your readers belief and love for your character, especially your antagonist, then you have lost the reader.
But it was his second in command that really made me want to scream in frustration. Commander `bloody’ Presley, the most tight arsed officer who ever lived. Presley is from the Navy and as such is a stickler for the rules and discipline of the battleships, rules and discipline that Calvin has demolished on his more informal vessel.
Now on the one hand Calvin is an idiot and is unfit for military command, all his officers are friends and feel free to question his decisions, on this count Presley is right on the money, the ship is a shambles and really should be replaced with a better crew.
Yet Presley is such a two dimensional cardboard cut-out it is insanely infuriating and you’ll find yourself disagreeing with her just so you don’t agree with her. You will spend most of your time trying to work out how the author ever thought she was a viable addition to the story. At one point in the story the author actually writes this for her:
“She knew he was right, but didn’t want him to be.”
While that may not seem all that irregular, humans after all are very egocentric, its indicative of Presley’s entire character. She has to be right all the time no matter what, and no matter how much evidence to the contrary she has smashed into her face.
Any military commander will tell you to listen to the advice given to you and to act in the best interests of the unit not your ego, and sadly Presley is so damned egotistical she would sacrifice the whole galaxy so no one else could say she was wrong.
At one point she annoyed me so much it actually made me want to break my Kindle in half.
I think I’ve ranted on long enough and I apologise for chewing your ear off, I just struggle to understand the point of this novel. The story doesn’t really go anywhere and the story just ends abruptly, meaning you have to buy the sequels to learn anything. And those sequels are costly, especially for independently published novels.
Overall I’d say if you enjoy sci-fi books by all means give it a go, its free so you have nothing to lose, but don’t expect it to be a particularly fun read and don’t expect it to make any sense unless your then willing to pay for the next novel. I for one will never pay for the next books and don’t think I will ever lose any sleep not knowing the outcome of Calvin or Presley.
You can try the book for yourself over on Amazon.