Book Review #2: The Metalmark Contract

Metalmark ContractTitle: The Metalmark Contract
Author: David Batchelor
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Available: paperback and ebook

Mr. Batchelor contacted me during the early summer months and asked me if I’d be interested in reviewing his book, The Metalmark Contract. At the time, I hadn’t really entertained opening up this blog to book reviews, though I had done a few, and was surprised by the query. I thought about it for a bit and then decided I would enjoy reading something new by an author I was unfamiliar with. I informed Mr. Batchelor that I was willing, but that my timetable might be looking at months before a review could be completed. He stated this was okay and sent me a paperback copy of his book. Later, I requested a ebook version, which he also readily supplied.

So on to the review.

Synopsis: The Metalmark Contract combines a vision of how realistic, advanced alien beings might arrive on Earth with insights into how we could be our own worst enemies if that happened. Our religious beliefs, laws and political habits will govern how we respond when aliens arrive. If that happened in the next decade (the timeframe of the novel) then we would not be prepared to take full advantage of the opportunities.

Our baggage of mystical delusions, militaristic preconceptions, oppressive treatment of even the most accomplished women, and reactionary politics all sabotage our liaison with an advanced being who offers us a quantum jump in technological progress. Our only hope is the alien’s forbearance and vulnerability, which make him persist in the hope of combining forces with us to save himself from lethal pursuers.

Contemporary events like the faltering of the US space program and the rise of repressive Chinese governance shape the lives of the characters in The Metalmark Contract. Our chance to join advanced beings and travel the stars is hostage to ancient beliefs, and seems doomed. Can it be saved?

The world after Metalmark arrives is transformed, as well as the Solar System, which he begins to reshape. Our best role is partner to his sculpting, but adversaries rise at the book’s end. And politics in the polarized USA sabotages the greatest nation’s partnership with destiny.

Setting: Mr. Batchelor creates a first contact situation like I’ve never encountered before. The alien life form contacts the United Nations and the majority of the story takes place in New York City. There are trips to other locations around the world, but the earth cities are pretty much interchangeable and add little to the overall story. Each location was simply the basis for the story evolution that took place at that point. While I have no issues with this, multiple references were made to the alien life form encountering different facets of our world and cultures, but little description was included from these encounters. Truthfully, this decision makes sense with the style of writing the author employed and probably would have detracted from the story he was trying to tell.

Grade: C+

Plot: The plot of The Metalmark Conspiracy seems to be pretty straight forward. An alien life form comes to earth willing to trade advanced technologies in return for resources available in our solar system. The book centers around the conflict between human factions determining how a relationship with this alien being will affect them. I would be quite interested in a Muslim reader’s take on how his or her faith was represented in the story. We’re unsure whether Metalmark (the alien) is truly beneficent or has some diabolical plan we’re unaware of.

Grade: C+

Characters: There are quite a few characters in The Metalmark Contract, but few are very likable. Metalmark himself really hasn’t been given enough of a personality to know whether he is the hero or the villain (and yes, I do believe this was done intentionally in an effort to build reader interest). It isn’t until the last third of the book or so that the story begins to center itself around several characters and gives them a bit more soul than previously shown.

Grade: B-

Odin’s recommendation: The Metalmark Contract is an extremely well thought out story, which is very important, because it is very technical. The science in this science fiction is what drives the entire story. Which only makes sense when you read the author’s biography. I had a few issues with the narrative itself. The dialogue was a bit wooden and there were many instances of strange abbreviations. Generals were routinely referred to as Gen. The President was Pres. and the Secretary General of the United Nations was the Sec. Gen. These consistently brought me out of the story and left me floundering as I struggled to resubmerge myself in the storyline. The science itself was phenomenal and I would have enjoyed even a bit deeper level of explanation on some of the purported alien technology. Mr. Batchelor mentions that his early literary heroes include Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov and this is plainly visible.

The Metalmark Contract is a fairly large book at nearly 300 pages (Trade Paper size) and though I hadn’t realized it at the time I was reading it, it is the first book in a series, and it does leave you on a bit of a cliffhanger. After I had finished the book I looked to see whether this was made clear anywhere, and I did eventually find it mentioned on the Amazon sales page. However, (though I might be simply missing it) I do not find it notated anywhere on the book.

I believe The Metalmark Contract will appeal to readers that appreciate technical writing and hard core science fiction. I personally believe that The Metalmark Contract could be a very good book, perhaps even excellent, by employing the skills of a good editor who might make the flow of the story a little more manageable to the average reader.

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