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I love a good space opera. It's pretty much impossible that I wouldn't. I mean, I grew up on Star Trek: The Original Series and then got into every iteration that came after. It's in my blood. That much being said, I'd like to say this: Thank you, Vanessa Ravencroft, for upholding my faith in my favorite sub-genre of Science Fiction. Seriously. Eric Olafson: Midshipman knocked it out of the park. I'll get to why in just a bit, but for now the disclaimer:
This is the eighth book in the series. I was able to follow 95% of it easily. It was all entertaining. I'm really only mentioning this because I know some people (and I happen to be one of them) prefer to start a series at the beginning. If you're looking for book one, it ain't here. If you're looking for a rollicking good time though, look no further. This one owns it.
Eric Olafson is not your typical midshipman/cadet. He has decorations that many senior officers don't, including the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. He seems to be beloved by just about every race of aliens in the galaxy, including the mysterious ones that no human seems to understand. And believe me, no one who is not a Narth really understands the Narth, but they love them some Midshipman Olafson. Seriously. That's really cool though because we get to see all kinds of alien races. With apologies to the Honor Harrington saga, the best Space Opera always includes aliens. Trek, Wars, Green Lantern, etc. It's an old tradition and it gets carried on here.
I want to praise Ravencroft for something else as well: Many authors have characters that are either gay or have some kind of weird gender but very few get it right. Ravencroft does. EO:M is a story about a person named Eric Olafson who has two genders (I may be describing this wrong, I'm not an expert on the subject) but the story is about his second and third years at the United Stars Naval Academy. This is not a story about someone having a mixed gender, it is the story of a mixed gendered person. It's a good story. Very rarely have I seen books with mixed gender and/or gay characters that actually managed to tell a good story but Ravencroft pulled it off. Kudos to her.
There is something else that works with the whole mixed gender thing. Eric thinks that no one knows but everyone does. They just don't care. He's in the closet for no reason. I like that. Most people have no problems with a person being mixed-gender and/or homosexual in today's society. A lot of the supposed transgressions committed by those of us who are not gay (although certainly not all) are more a matter of the way things are perceived. Ravencroft seems to get this.
The story of Eric Olafson: Midshipman focuses on the titular characters second and third years at the naval academy. Olafson and his friends get into more trouble than the Harry Potter gang. Really. These guys could walk into a Kool-Aid tasting and walk out with a collection of black eyes and scalps. It makes the book fun. If you're looking for action look here because you'll find plenty.
Olafson alternates between extremely humble and a take no shit attitude. It fits though. I want to know how Ravencroft pulled this off. One minute, Olafson is like "Aw shucks" and the next he's like "Yes, I am an officer and I earned these medals. Follow my orders, dammit!" It's impressive.
The book offers several interludes. These switch point of view and location of the narrator. This is a good thing. This is the exact technique used by just about every movie or TV show ever. More authors should do this, because it gives the reader a much better understanding of what is going on in the wide world without necessarily informing the main character or something he doesn't need to know. And let's face it: We all love to squirm when the MC acts without knowledge that we have as readers/viewers. It just works.
Some of the gadgetry in the book is just plain cool as well. Every Space Opera ever (I may be exaggerating) has a device that produces a pressed uniform on command, but only the Galactic Chronicles has a device that will put your outfit on you. The power armor in the book includes rockets so that Marines can work/fight in space. The list goes on. I like SF doohickies. Chalk this one up as a win.
I'm confused though. This book is clearly labeled as eighth in the series, but there is only one other book available. I want a chance to read the rest of these books and I'm willing to pay for them, but I can't. That's frustrating. I want to give my money to read the books. This should be a fairly easy thing to negotiate. I mean, I know some authors get frustrated with the whole "Shut up and Take My Money" thing but damn. Where are the other seven books?
While I'm kvetching about things that have nothing to do with the story... I received this book as an ARC for review in e-book form. Yet, when I check Amazon I don't get a link to an ebook. I have nothing against a hardcopy release but I'm confused. The work has already been done. Why is there no e-book available? It seems to me that she'd make more money selling both for whatever that's worth.
My only complaint about the actual story is one that has been made over and over about heroes in stories. Olafson is way too good at, well, everything. He doesn't seem to have a weak spot. He out battles one of his friends who comes from a race that is supposedly invincible in hand to hand fighting. He commands the biggest starship in the fleet on his first day as a cadet and gets through his first combat almost perfectly. He boards another ship in combat and comes back alive and victorious. I mean, this guy couldn't mess up if he tried. Oh, and he's a diplomatic wiz too. The various alien races in the book all recognize Eric as one of their own, even though he is clearly human. Overall though, the story was awesome and the flaws forgivable.
Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Auto Dressers
Eric Olafson: Midshipman
Eric Olafson: Midshipman is available at the link below: