Sunday, July 1, 2012

REVIEW: Hollow Moon / Steph Bennion

TITLE: Hollow Moon
AUTHOR: Steph Bennion
PUBLISHER: Self-Published
AVAILABILITY: Smashwords (multiple e-formats)

Recommended for fans of light-hearted adventures and space operas.

Science Fiction—Young Adult/Space Opera

Hollow Moon is a cleverly written space adventure with plenty of humor. It takes place in the 23rd century, in which humans have spread out across the stars but have not yet made contact with intelligent aliens. There are mysteries and twists surrounding political intrigue and corporate warfare, but also quirky, light-hearted moments. The technology is well developed and described in detail.

Hollow Moon alternates between sequences of fast-paced adventure and scenes of the characters’ more everyday moments.

Third person omniscient. The narrative switches between characters’ perspectives within scenes, allowing the reader to see how each character is experiencing the situation.

Ravana O’Brien is a vivacious teenager living in a quiet life in a hollow asteroid on the fringes of humankind’s interstellar society. One day, while chasing her troublesome robotic pet cat, she witnesses the kidnapping of a young exiled prince, heir to a throne lightyears away. Meanwhile, on another world, a three-member high school band sets out to participate in a galactic music competition that is to take place at a peace conference intended to settle a decades-long civil war. The band members—Bellona, Philyra, and Endymion—stumble into the conflict when they come across an abandoned ship that had been used to kidnap the prince.

Hollow Moon follows the antics and adventures of these four teenagers, plus Ravana’s brilliant and eccentric friend Zotz, who will stop at nothing to impress her, as they find themselves more and more entangled in the political machinations and corporate intrigue behind the kidnapping. As Ravana investigates these plots, she ends up learning secrets about her own past that her father, the starship pilot Quirinus, had kept from her. The narrative cuts from scene to scene in a cinematic fashion, often showing the reader events unbeknownst to the young protagonists—such as close-ups of the two bickering kidnappers and glimpses of the scheming villains.

Hollow Moon has a large and entertaining cast of characters. There’s Miss Clymene, the hapless music teacher just trying to keep her small, underdog band together on what was supposed to be a simple school trip. And Ostara, a well-meaning but rather incompetent young detective assigned to solve the mystery of the prince’s kidnapping. Professor Wak, Zotz’s father, makes only a few appearances but is nevertheless one of the more memorable characters due to his quirks. And of course, there’s that electric cat, which at first glance is a robotic pet but ends up becoming an integral part of the story.

The world-building in Hollow Moon is an impressive display of technological and societal conjecture. The mechanics of the main technologies—such as AI processors and artificial gravity—are described in detailed but understandable language. The futuristic society is similarly well thought-out. In this rendition of the 23rd century, China and India have become two of the more prominent interstellar superpowers, and thus many of the planets have Chinese names (such as Taotie and Daode) while the kidnapped prince belongs to an old-fashioned Indian monarchy that had been set up on one of these worlds.

While the universe is intricately described, the events themselves are straightforward and, at times, cartoonish in their moments of humor. There’s not much in terms of character development, and at times, the characters seem to adjust too quickly to the circumstances they find themselves in. The story doesn't take itself too seriously as it alternates between the main mystery and character quirks, such as Philyra's obsession with a celebrity-filled reality show or Zotz's attempts to impress Ravana.

Although the story takes place in the future, the characters speak and behave in a contemporary (early 21st century) fashion, using variations of present-day colloquialisms in their dialogue. This makes them easy to relate to and sympathize with, as they come across as familiar and likable. Their witty chatter and everyday concerns keep the story light-hearted even as it delves into some of the darker subjects of bioethics and civil war.

In terms of writing, Hollow Moon is smooth and easy to read, with the narration carrying the story along without drawing attention to itself. The third person omniscient narration is deftly handled, allowing the reader to view a single scene from multiple points of view. With its twists and reveals and colorful sense of humor, there is never a dull moment. The juxtaposition of a high school band competition against the backdrop of dangerous, change-the-world circumstances makes this an enjoyable and unique story.

Hollow Moon has been impeccably edited—there are no typos, and the writing is assured and efficient.

There are very mild references to drug use (mostly people asking Endymion if he’s “on egg” due to his somewhat stoner-like attitude) and a handful of explosions, but other than that, Hollow Moon is completely G-rated and suitable for young readers.

[From Smashwords’ author page]

Steph Bennion is a writer, musician and reluctant civil servant in Westminster, born and bred in the Black Country but now living in south London, England. Her science-fiction stories are written as a reaction to the dearth of alternative heroes amidst bookshelves swamped by tales of the supernatural. For every aspiring vampire or wizard, the world needs an astrophysicist, an engineer, or at the very least someone who can make the trains run on time.

Visit her website or Follow her on Twitter

RELATED:  An Interview with Steph Bennion

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