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The Outback Stars (Outback Stars, Book 1) Mass Market Paperback – February 5, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former naval officer McDonald makes an auspicious debut with a military SF novel that through her heroine proves the maxim "amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics." Lt. Jodenny Scott, who's suffering from survivor's guilt after the destruction of her spaceship in an unexplained accident, pulls some strings to get a berth on a new ship, the Aral Sea, which turns out to have a dysfunctional chain of command. Inventory discrepancies, missing robots and officers who either disappear or experience unusual accidents suggest that all is not well. Meanwhile, a troubled petty officer begins to experience visions of the aliens who created the system humans are using for interstellar exploration and commerce. The author captures the flavor of day-to-day life in a military organization and neatly ties the alien mystery with other plot threads at the end, though some of the romantic elements are a bit out of place and the mystery angle may remind cartoon fans of a Scooby-Doo episode. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In a fast-paced debut, McDonald introduces Team Space and the alien-built Alcheringa, which allows huge freighters to travel between worlds. Lieutenant Jodenny Scott, freshly recovered from the destruction of her previous ship, Yangtze, ostensibly by colonial separatists, wangles a berth on Aral Sea. She is put in charge of Underway Stores, which is staffed by the rejects of an already shaky crew that she thinks she can handle; but between interpersonal conflicts and strange accidents involving equipment, it's a bit of a challenge. She must deal with shipboard politics again, but while she's on Mary River, she and Sergeant Myell accidentally stumble upon another mysterious alien creation that could change everything, on top of which, she starts falling in love. Conspiracies abound, everyone has secrets, and the web of politics involving the accident on board the Yangtze and the bizarre series of events on the Aral Sea comes together in a most satisfying manner. McDonald's characters are surprisingly interesting, and their culture, based on native Australian elements, is well-imagined, full of intrigue. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Outback Stars (Book 1)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 386 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Science Fiction; 1st edition (February 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765355558
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765355553
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.1 x 6.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,126,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lieutenant Sandra McDonald spent 8 years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy, stationed on Guam, Newfoundland, and Key West, Florida. She worked in the IUSS anti-submarine warfare system and also family services, security, and addiction counseling. As a veterans advocate, she has helped connect them with services for disability and medical services. Her website is and she is @sandramcdonald.

Now a civilian, she writes military science fiction, horror, romance, science fiction romance, speculative fiction, young adult, and other genres for adults and younger readers. Her first book of short fiction, Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories, won the Lambda Literary award for transgender fiction. It is a Booklist Editor's Choice and American Library Association Over the Rainbow book.

Her short stories have appeared in science fiction magazines such as Asimov's, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Clarkesword, and the Magazine of F & SF. She has been reprinted in several year's best anthologies and in foreign languages. Four of her stories have been noted by the James A. Tiptree Jr. Award honor list for excellence in gender and identity.

Her novels include The Outback Stars (Science Fiction Book of the Month Club pick) series, Mystery of the Tempest (Silver Moonbeam Award) and its sequels (as author Sam Cameron), the gay-asexual thriller City of Soldiers (as author Sam Burke), and the science fiction romance Boomerang World.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Professor J on July 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have to confess that I would never have read this book if I didn't know the author. I usually give military SF a wide berth. ;) And I had a hard time getting into this one; the first few pages whacked me with all the elements that usually turn me off military SF: action and "drama" that's undramatic because you don't know or care about the characters yet, lots of bureaucratobabble about ranks and duties and day-to-day operations, etc.

But once I got past that, I discovered two things: I really liked the protagonist, Jodenny. She's that rarest of female characters in SF -- intelligent but not a genius, pretty but not a sexbomb, competent and level-headed and funny. In short, a normal human woman. And as Jodenny dealt with an increasingly tangled conspiracy web and her inappropriate feelings for one of her subordinates, I more than liked her; I *cared*.

The other thing I realized was, military SF is actually kind of interesting when it's not all about the captain or the admiral or the guy with the big gun. Jodenny's "office politics", her personnel issues (like who's sleeping on the job), her effort to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder while still trying to have a career -- I could really identify with all of this, even though it took place on an Australian spaceship that travels through an alien wormhole. It's plainly military SF, but so real-world and human that it feels like something very different. And better, IMO.

So definitely a recommend. =)
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Philip D. Long on April 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I read the first few pages of this book, I was not impressed. It seemed hard to understand and used a background that was strange. The next day, i picked it up again and before I quit, I had read it from cover to cover, twice. It could use more explanation as to the background universe but the main beauty is the developement of the characters. They were well written, believable, and likeable. The author, having served as a U.S. Naval officer, has the military down pat. Don't give up after the first few pages, keep reading, it's worth it.

I hope this is just the first in a long series.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Huston on June 19, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I'll be honest. I've pretty much given up on science fiction over the last decade; so much seems to be derived from either Star Trek or Star Wars, or truly awful excursions, that I simply stopped reading it. Oh, there would be bright moments when Lois McMaster Bujold or Julian May would come out with something, but most of the time -- zilch. Nada. Not going there.

But every now and then, something will catch my eye. That what was literally happening with Sandra McDonald's book, The Outback Stars. The cover art, I found, was pretty good, and I got taken in. And the premise looked interesting enough, looking to draw on Australia and the South Pacific for inspiration, rather than the usual American/Russian/European culture that seems to be the norm for most space opera.

Lieutenant Jodenny Scott is dying of boredom on the planet of Kookaburra, waiting for a new assignment on another starship traveling the Alcheringa. She's survived a terrorist attack on her previous ship, and it turned her into a genuine hero. It's not something she's too happy about, she'd rather be working, and when the opportunity arises to leave the planet on the Aral Sea, she leaps at it.

But her new assignment is anything but peachy. Underway Stores -- think quartermasters -- supplies everything from uniforms to supplies and maintaining the DNGO's that do the fetch-and-carry chores. And it's a department full of misfits, from a habitually sick crewman, attitude problems, slackers, and a gang of pilferers that use violence to back up their claims. It's not exactly what she was looking for. But Lt. Scott sets to with a will, and struggles not just to enforce her will on some very reluctant crewmen, but also to make her own life bearable.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Angela K. Gabriel on May 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I read this book recently, and it hooked me from the start, thanks to a very intriguing beginning. The prologue starts right in the middle of the action, which is a great way to engage the reader.

"The Outback Stars" has interesting, well-constructed characters; an intriguing plot with some nice twists and turns; alternate POVs that worked well to tell the story; and great pacing, especially once the author offers a few really nifty reveals. Also, while I'm no military expert, the military aspect of the novel felt very realistic to me. The author's personal experience with the military serve her, and the reader, well here.

This book is definitely worth a read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Julia Walter VINE VOICE on July 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been reading Sandra McDonald's fiction for over 11 years. I've read many of her short stories and way back when, in another life, I was the flagwaver for her fanfiction. (Don't ask.) So that I'd love her first novel is no great surprise to me. What do I like about it?

The crew of the Aral Sea seems a very realistic portrayal of sailors/ spacefarers. Unlike Star Trek, on McDonald's ship they can't replicate whatever it is they want. When you want a uniform, a machine part or food it is Underway Stores that must store, find and inventory it.

The Aral Sea (a nod to the Vorkosigan saga only in my mind-- these ships are named after environmental disasters) is an unhappy ship and Jodenny is assigned the unhappiest department: Underway Stores, but that's where Terry works. She's an officer and he's enlisted, but that doesn't stop the attraction they have for each other. The mystery of why the ship is so very unhappy is part of what Jodenny & Terry must solve-- and that's terrific, and, well, Bujold-like.

What I also like is that after ~400 pages, I don't know everything about this universe. Why is nearly everybody Australian -- or their forbearers are? Why are so few characters born on Earth? Why did the aliens give this technology and leave? It means that Sandra has many more stories in this series to tell!

Like Bujold's Vorkosigan series in some ways, both are about military & quasi- military ships. Jodenny and Terry would get on very well in the Dendarii Mercenaries. Actually, though, it's more like Tanya Huff's Valor books, with Sergeant Torin Kerr. I'm sure Kerr'd like Terry, but Jodenny... (Kerr, like Terry is enlisted and spends much of her time protecting officers. Unlike Terry, Torin is a warrior.
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