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The Dark Colony (Asteroid Belt Police) (Volume 1) Paperback – June 16, 2014
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About the Author
Starting with a degree in Ergonomics, I moved into the High Tech world in the seventies, emerging relatively unscathed twenty years later. I was around when the profession of User Interface Designer had invented itself, and it provided me with a decent living in Canada. I left that business in the late nineties, before the tech bubble burst, going freelance to write custom software for a number of small firms. Now I've retired from all that and moved back to England. I live in the summer on my narrowboat "Delta Vee" (for the uninitiated, that's the rocketry term for a "change in velocity", many narrowboat names refer to slowing down). The winters, I live in a up north, near Hexham. I have two lovely daughters, one a psychologist and the other a veterinary nurse. Since reading early science fiction as a teenager, especially the books by Robert Heinlein, I have been obsessed by humanity's future as a space-dwelling species. The non-fiction book "A Step Further Out" by Jerry Pournelle revealed the serious challenges to this idea, and got me thinking about ways of overcoming them. Several ideas and years of calculation later, I had a detailed simulation of the colonisation of the Solar System, with named individuals travelling about under the control of a realistic simulation of the motion of the various lumps of rock that fly about up there. Turning the simulation into anything other than a vastly expanded virtual train set was the challenge. This book is an attempt at that. If you spend all your spare moments in a complex imaginary world, you can be considered insane. Unless you share it with some other people, then you are an author. The big questions people ask when I talk about this world are: why would anyone want to go, and why wouldn't it turn into wild-west chaos. I've found there is no short answer to these questions, and fiction seems like the best way to address them. The "why" question seems so obvious to me I can't assemble arguments to it. The "peace" question is so broad, it's going to take several books for me to answer it to my own satisfaction.
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Top customer reviews
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The Dark Colony, today’s book, is set on a colony orbiting the very real asteroid Terpsichore. Our heroine, Lisa, is an 18-year-old junior cop in the very small colony (around 400 people all told) whom, in Chapter 1, finds a dead body. What’s especially shocking is that said dead body is the first stranger Lisa has ever met.
Thus begins my many, many heartburns with the book. Penn, in an attempt to be realistic, has kept his travel between points in space slow – arguably too slow, and too infrequent to support a realistic economy. I have other world-building issues, such as a colony spun to produce 1/100th of a G gravity.
My biggest heartburn begins when the investigation gets up to speed. Nobody would reasonably expect the police department of a 400-person village to handle a murder all on their own. So they call for help from Mars. But because of the travel issues, Mars is really just computer help and talking heads on a video screen. Yet when Lisa is told by Mars to arrest people she’s known her whole life, she does so without a peep! Moreover, the locals stand for it.
Now, I have to say I found The Dark Colony a refreshing change of pace from typical SF asteroids of late, which seem to be infested with gun-toting libertarians. The economy and politics is much more (realistically, in my view) collectivist. But I do believe than Penn has tossed the baby out with the bathwater in regards to how people would realistically behave. Simply put, if The Authorities can’t actually put boots on the ground (or whatever passes for ground locally) they aren’t really in authority.
I wish I could say that the breathless prose and other stylistic points salvaged the story for me. They don’t. The prose is workmanlike at best, and a fair amount of the dialog is maid-and-butler. I get the feeling that Penn hasn’t ever lived in a small town, which is reflected in his characters. Like much self-published stuff, The Dark Colony is an interesting concept not well executed.
Lisa, the main character, is well developed and likeable. She isn't perfect and when she finds herself leading an investigation that is beyond anything she has dealt with before, she does not develop sudden magical skills, she asks for help. In a genre where most space jockeys are swaggering heroes without flaw, Lisa is refreshingly real.
My only criticism, and this seems to be the consensus of other reviewers, is that the antagonists are not developed. I do understand that this is the first in the series and not the last we will see of them, but I would like to have seen some more of what their motive was for forming the rogue colony. At first they seemed like simple smugglers, but then it seemed as if they had more of a political agenda, yet in the end, we know nothing of their true motives.
Overall, it was a great story that would appeal to fans of colonization sci-fi. I look forward to continuing the series.
The life on the colony is wonderfully detailed and very carefully thought through, and again, generally just alluded to rather than fully explained, allowing the reader to imagine the world. There are no easy answers in this carefully thought-through book and help is months, if not years away requiring the main character and those working with her to rely on their own colony-bred ingenuity to get through various challenges. Interesting plot (if a bit complicated, this could have easily been split out into two books by itself). Highly recommended.
With that said, I'll note that I'm giving this five stars with some reservations. Its intriguing premise and exploration of novel themes make it worthy of five stars though the prose can be a bit clunky at times (as everyone's writing teacher told them "Show, don't tell" and Mr. Penn does a lot of telling). Exciting action sequences seem impersonally rendered at times, with many details elided so that some seemingly Big Deal events pass by in less than a page of narration. Also, and sorry Mr. Penn, but the protagonist (a young, female police officer) reads as a heroine penned by a middle-aged man. With the caveat that I already think this is a fantastic book, Mr. Penn, if you're interested in delving further, could I suggest a few resources that convincingly portray young female protagonists? Elizabeth Moon is an obvious suggestion, Tamora Pierce has written some wonderful young female protagonists, Lloyd Alexander (Westmark), Garth Nix (Sabriel), etc.