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Freedom at Feronia (Asteroid Belt Police) (Volume 2) Paperback – September 19, 2014
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In Book 1, our heroine Lisa ends up with her very own spaceship, or at least the core for one. After some not-terribly-interesting discussions, she decides to take it out with a crew to Feronia, a real asteroid, there to undertake a commission for the Asteroid Belt Police.
In Penn’s universe, space travel is awfully slow, which causes the plot of this book to drag. Eventually, our heroes make it to Feronia, which consists of two stations, a ground-based one and an orbital one. The two halves are in the midst of a cold war, largely because the ground station has been overtaken by a group of American libertarians from Tulsa, who are doing all sorts of quasi-libertarian / religious hijinks. Lisa’s problem is to end the hijinks with her crew of six police in a way such that she can leave without fighting returning.
One of my criticisms of libertarians in general is that they don’t seem to understand how humans work. Much the same can be said of the author, Penn. He comes up with an innovative solution to the problem, which only works if people are much less stubborn than they usually are. Considering that these colonists are true believers (or they wouldn’t be there) I found that hard to buy.
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 the dialog clunky. I also felt that the POV shifted around a lot for no apparent reason. About the best I can say for Freedom at Feronia is that it provides a more solid ending than that of the first book. I would really consider both books as one novel for purposes of plot.
Interesting concept, not well-executed.
The second book in the series presents a new set of challenges. Overall, the writing is the same caliber as Dark Colony (Book 1), but there are a few things which made this one not quite as enjoyable for me.
There is a noticeable retro feel to the story - very reminiscent of the founders of the Science Fiction genre. The story focuses not so much on entertaining through plot variability, but on how the solution to the problem is obtained. Definitely has a bit of a quest based feel to it. Not a bad thing, but for the current generation, this may make the overall story flow feel sluggish.
The pace of the story itself is very definitely steady, there's no rushing events in the world Richard has built. Once things are set in motion, you're along for the ride with no turning back. Knowing where things are going takes a little away from the overall excitement and suspense for me. There were some elements that I enjoyed - mostly the transitions between the story segments. The descriptions between the home asteroid and ship, the ship and destination asteroid, and the ship at the destination station were handled beautifully. Very smooth, with enough information to let you know the transition had started, then let the reader realize the transition had ended.
The starting cast familiar from Dark Colony are present at first, then a few fade away to become presences to fill space, but no longer heard from. There are a few new cast members who manage to overshadow the familiar faces. Overall, this left me chuckling, though it was a bitter humor. For anyone familiar with the current crime shows, what emerges with the synergy of the old and new cast will be a familiar group type. It's interesting, but because it's also currently popular some may demand more that what emerges. Richard does a good job keeping to the rules he's developed, and staying within the boundaries he's established for his technology. There's a few places where he might have stretched things a tad, but they are very small, highly forgivable, and far between. (He also provides some explanation about how they come about if you spot them.)
What lost the complete star for me was the world building. With as solidly as Richard built up Dark Colony, in the shipboard, station wide, and asteroid-based worlds, I expected a more solidly developed world for this one. The asteroid environments, and the two station environments were well done. When the action centered in these areas I could "see" who was where, and what was around them. On board the ship, however, I never could get a clear idea of where things were. There are a few key areas that even though he described their location relative to each other I never could get placed in the ship itself. This led to a few problems trying to "see" the scenes that occurred in these spaces.
The final question is if I would go back and re-read the book. That answer is a resounding "yes". I happen to be a fan of the early sci-fi authors, so the nostalgic feel to the work with modern technology and issues makes an interesting blend that is well worth a second, third, or even more read for me.
They are traveling from a culturally stable space colony to another space colony now physically split into two factions who are unable to reconcile their differences. One of the factions is using involuntary servitude to keep it's small but growing population in check.
The captain learns that she has to depend on everyone's efforts, including a hacker who has no place for the strict guidelines that normally keep you alive in space.
You see everything the crew does on board from growing crops, raising children, to training in armed combat so they can attack an armed hostile outpost, foster an internal rebellion which minimizes casualties and keeps revenge and the resentment of defeat from becoming a reality in a place where every life counts.
It is a complete story without having read previous installments.