Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ryk Spoor's Castaway Planet

Have you ever wanted to just chuck it all and get away from EVERYONE? Have you ever thought about what _really_ roughing it would be like? Has it ever occurred to you that being off the beaten path would be a good thing? Would you enjoy a chance to take on the whole world and everything in it with just a few of your nearest and dearest? If so, then Castaway Planet by Ryk Spoor and Erik Flint is for you.

At the beginning of the story we're treated to the rather idyllic scene of our main character Sakura Kimei and her friend Harratrer aka Whips (a genetically-engineered alien Bemmius Novus Sapiens) playing stalking games in the corridors of a colony ship. There is an lifeboat drill called. Soon after there is an accident aboard ship and that's when the action starts.

The family in the pod finds itself adrift in interstellar space. I'm not an expert here, but their method for identifying the closest star seems both well-researched and actually possible. Fortunately, is a pilot-trainee, being still a teenager, but has learned her lessons well and manages to get them onto the  planet safely. Things seem to be pretty simple at first. That is, until disaster strikes and "easy" literally sinks out of sight.

It's hard to be specific from here without spoilers, but suffice it to say that the list of challenges faced by our heroes is both long and, in many cases, unpredictable. The cast is forced in some cases to handle the predictable questions as well, things like, "Is the water potable?" and "What are we going to eat once the rations run out?" but all in all, those are subjects he could not have believably avoided. Ask any survival expert and they will tell you that the first priority in a survival situation is water. The next is food.

The equipment that the would-be colonists turns castaways bring with them is equal to the task, as are the people wielding it. It's not always obvious that either will be but this a story in the finest traditions of The Swiss Family Robinson or Robinson Crusoe. Our heroes always find a way to get through whatever fate throws at them. Whether it's building a shelter or defending themselves from the native wildlife, they manage to get through somehow.

One thing I found especially pleasing about this work is that, while it is in fact related part of the Boundary series, it is easily understandable with no prior knowledge of the previous books. This book works perfectly well as a stand-alone and was even more fun as a follow on to those of us who had read what came before. There are a few references early in the story, but none are critical to understanding what is going on and all feel like they were put there for the enjoyment of existing fans.

My only problem with this book is how incredibly tightly it's plotted. The twin facts that everyone in the family happens to be in their lifeboat both before and during the accident is both extremely fortunate and just a little too coincidental for my liking. The fact that the people in the lifeboat, mom Laura (doctor), dad Akira (biologist), sister Melody (no real occupation at age ten, but an organizational wiz), baby sister Hitomi and of course Whips (engineer) and Sakura (pilot) all happen to be in the same capsule together just when things go wrong seems a bit contrived. Granted, all of these coincidences are necessary to the plot and I really can't think of anything he could have done differently, but at the end of the day, they seemed to stretch things a bit further than I was really comfortable with.

That much being said, I really did enjoy the book and highly recommend it.
Castaway Planet is the perfect excuse to stay inside a nice warm house this winter. Also, if keeping warm is what you've got in mind, it helps to read about a family stranded in the tropics, even if it does make one a bit jealous. I'm giving this one 4.5 out of 5 colony ships.

Castaway Planet
Ryk Spoor and Eric Flint
Baen Books, 2015

On Friday: Brad Torgerson's The Chaplain's War

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