DATARAMA

Half Share

July 13, 2014
Nathan Lowell

Half Share picks up right where Quarter Share left off - on the good ship Lois McKendrick, hauling massive cargo loads through the deep dark void of interstellar space, where our protagonist Ishmael Horatio Wang (yes, seriously) has just been promoted to an environmental services technician (which may sound lowly, but in the first book he was a mess hall cook's assistant). It's much like the first book - no grand epic tales of action or skulduggery, just a story about some people who happen to live and work in space.

As I mentioned in my Quarter Share review, I'm not necessarily hostile to the basic premise. It's clearly patterned after 19th and early 20th century coming-of-age stories (as the protagonist's name - which, by the way, raises eyebrows by the other characters - indicates).

Unfortunately, Half Share is dragged even further down by the two mentioned weaknesses than Quarter Share was — possibly because Lowell's ability to write interestingly about mundane details isn't quite enough to save two books. I criticized the first book for the fact that nothing happens, but Half Share shows me that I was being sort of unfair, since even less happened in this one. In the first book, the characters were established, Ishmael's mother died, he entered spacer service and had his first interstellar flight. In this one, I struggle to even give a plot summary, because so very, very little actually happens. It's mostly about Ishmael's interactions with other crewmembers. Everybody likes him, and apart from a little good-natured making fun of his naïveté, there's not even a hint of interpersonal conflict. Every female character gushes about how he's so rare and special, every male character respects and looks up to him.

It gets worse: Where Ishmael showed some signs of being a Gary Stu in the first book, he takes the full plunge here. His worldly knowledge - for someone who we've already established has lived a rather sheltered life - is absurd and unrealistic. He turns out to have an authoritative knowledge about gourmet food and fashion clothes even though this book establishes that he's never been out to eat in his entire life, and the only civilian clothes he ever owned was bought by his mother.

Add to this that the last fourth of the book was essentially a giant toe-curlingly awful exposé about how nearly every named woman in the book wants to have sex with him and how he manages to score with the most attractive and sought-after woman in a spacer bar solely through the power of suave. This, I hasten to add, is the same guy we've repeatedly established is a rather awkward, naïve 18-year-old boy on the very bottom of the social pecking order.

In other words, it had all the weaknesses of the first book, and even managed to undermine one of the strengths: Character believability. While Ishmael was a bit of a Gary Stu in the first book, the other characters suffer in this one - particularly the female characters, who are reduced from interesting spacers with their own interesting stories I'd have liked to know more about to a combination of gushing ninnies and dull sex objects. The aforementioned toe-curlingly awful last fourth of the book is introduced by a literally two-page-long description of Ishmael ogling their bodies when they're in civilian clothes. Not exactly out of character for an 18-year-old boy, but the fact that the rest of that part deals with how every female character in that part reacts the same way to him seemed stupid. Am I supposed to believe that these women - ranging from the nerdy environmental specialist through (not one, but two) badass butch rocker chicks ten years his senior, to the smoking hot officer every man in the story dreams of - are all reduced to 18-year-old tittering schoolgirls solely by the power of our hero's newly-bought fashion clothes? Come on.

It was bad, but it wasn't Ringworld-level bad. I wouldn't recommend it, and I hope Full Share is better.

 
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