Review: Double Share, by Nathan Lowell

This is the fourth book in Lowell’s Solar Clipper series, and I’ve been waiting for it for almost a year.

I wasn’t reviewing books here when I tore through the first three books, so let me first say a few things about those. This is the story of Ishmael Wang, who goes off to space as a bottom rung messmate after his mother dies. As the book titles suggest, he slowly works his way up through the ranks, starting off with only a Quarter Share of a normal crewman’s share of the profits, advancing through Half Share, Full Share and Double Share. Still to come in his career are Captain Share and Owner Share.

What I have really enjoyed about these books is that they paint a vivid (if a tad dull) picture of life aboard an interstellar freighter. He covers everything from the cleaning routines of the mess hall to the maintenance of algae tanks for atmospheric treatment. Honestly, there’s not much excitement in the first two books. I described them to my wife as being about coffee and the flea market, but it’s also a bit like saying the movie Fight Club was about soap. The third book picked up with some excitement and pointed us towards Ishmael’s transition from the lower decks to the upper decks.

Double Share is Ishmael’s first job as an officer as he gets a posting as the third mate on a bulk hauler. What I found particularly good about this was that Lowell shifted Ishmael’s focus from learning how to manage the ship to learning how to manage the crew. And wow… what a crew to get stuck with. It starts off looking like the most dysfunctional set of characters this side of Jerry Springer show, but Ishmael works his way in and finds out who to trust and who to fear.

Strangely, one of my biggest complaints about the series is also one of its best features for me. Specifically, Ishmael Wang is something of a Mary Sue in that he doesn’t really seem to have any significant flaws, handles most challenges with ease, and is more ethical than the Dalai Lama.  He’s about as perfect as he can be while still being human.

But he’s still a sympathetic character, so the stories form a bit of wish fulfillment for me the reader. It’s a great romp through the space freighter world, letting me daydream all kinds of “wouldn’t that be neat” dreams. Maybe it’s a little unrealistic in that regard, but in a world filled with dystopian futures, dark heroes, and settings so gritty you can taste the sand, it’s a nice break to go read something fun and carefree.

One final complaint, though, about the quality of this book in particular. After the first three came out whiz-bang-boom, this one took forever. It’s not really the author’s fault, though, because these are mostly sitting on disk, already written. (They were originally podcast a few years back.) Rather, there was a big delay at his publisher, and while I’d like to think it was time well spent. It wasn’t.

My copy was riddled with typos, missing punctuation, and incorrect word choices, e.g. “relishing” vs. “relinquishing”. As a writer, I know these things leap from my fingers like epileptic monkeys, but proofreaders are supposed to catch them. The first three books were very clean in this regard, but they really dropped the ball on this one. If I weren’t already so in love with the story, I might have just set it aside as an amateur attempt, so I hope Lowell insists on better proofing for the final two books in the series.

But the bottom line I that I really enjoyed it, and I tore through in two or three days.