This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Our next SPSFC review is The View From Infinity Beach, by R. P. L. Johnson.
This story had a nicely gripping start, although I have to say the main reason I continued to angry-read the first few chapters was because of how obnoxious the young adults of Excalibur Station were. I just plain didn’t want Kade to be friends with any of them, but I’m coming to recognise this as a symptom of my own encroaching cantankerous-old-cuntness, rather than any flaw in the writing. On the contrary, the characters were well written and plotted.
Left to right: Nikki the popstar, John the resourceful nerd, Kade the only person who was brought up right, Lizzie the severely judgement impaired athlete-type, and Lawrence the rich braggart with a heart of gold (somewhere, occasionally; may be subject to backslides).
Look, I watched it with my kids, okay? And it’s not a 1:1 analogy, but … if you know, you know.
So, this interesting but annoying start was enough to get us to the main point of the story, which was that the asteroid belt mining company community were working on a hollow-asteroid habitat concept on an awe-inspiring scale, and the parasitic Earthbound “ruling class” were out to take it for themselves.
While the worldbuilding and sociopolitical setup (not to mention the strange asteroid at the focus of it all) is a little reminiscent of The Expanse, Johnson avoids too much of the unfortunately hard-to-avoid “Earther vs. Belter” similarities that come with the territory these days. I’d say that while it is very much its own thing, The View From Infinity Beach is also a sufficiently entertaining entry in the asteroid belt mining future sub-subgenre to appeal to people who enjoyed That Other Series That’s Everywhere.
Myself, I was already interested in this one because of the cover, and the nostalgia for Rendezvous With Rama that it kindled.
The action was nicely done, with some real menace and an excellent sense of what was at stake. Even if the main villain was somewhat overblown, one might also argue that it’s impossible to really overblow something like this. And it was very satisfying to read.
The interpersonal drama with the young characters was set up a little clumsily. Really, Lawrence shat me to tears (by the time he improved it was too late, I had already decided I was never going to like him) and the most annoying thing about him was that Lizzie seemed completely oblivious to it, and that kind of reflected poorly on the overall work. Not only did it come hazardously close to the “women always like jerks” involuntary-celibate mantra and cheap jock-at-school tropeyness (a tropeycal copypasta with incelery, if you will), but ultimately it didn’t have much bearing on the story or the characters so there was neither justification nor payoff. It was just antagonism for the sake of antagonism, when there was plenty of that coming from the actual antagonists. Not to mention the far more compelling relationship dynamic between John and the other kids.
But anyway, that was a minor thing.
I really enjoyed the built-in alteration to the laws of physics that came with the coriolis effect inside the space stations, and how it was written into the story’s action scenes. I don’t know enough about the actual laws of physics to say this is or is not how things would actually go in a spin-gravity habitat, but since I don’t know, I’m going to say it was fine and I liked it.
Aside from some occasional editorial issues (at one point a character was barraged with “a bullet of bullets”, which was actually quite amusing) and a bit of odd pacing and scene-changing (the first encounter at Kera and the ending of that sequence and the kids’ escape and return to Excalibur seemed to happen off-page, unless my Kindle flicked past it for some reason), the whole narrative was really nicely constructed and had an excellent, nicely relentless pace.
We didn’t really get any sex in the story, and that’s fine – it was essentially a young adult adventure so aside from a bit of teen hormone drama and male gazery, there wasn’t anything full-on. And that made sense. Let’s award this one gym sock that could be crusty for entirely innocent (but still kind of gross) reasons out of a possible entire American Pie movie franchise with extra Stiflers.
There’s a few firefights, an honest-to-goodness Ripley fight in an industrial mover suit, a bit of mob violence and collateral murderings, but all in all this isn’t really a gory one. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for The View From Infinity Beach.
Not much WTF in this story either, like I say it was a nice take on the asteroid belt mining future concept and not one with a built-in WTF thread like some giants of the sub-subgenre. And it didn’t need one, since the solid science and human endeavour of it was the point, and more than made up for any lack. I’ll give this story a half-filled ammo clip of bullets out of a possible bullet of bullets on the WTF-o-meter.
My Final Verdict
This was a fun read, all its issues were relatively minor and were definitely forgivable in light of the excellent concepts and engaging action. There was a classic wartime feel to the Molly Moore “mascot” that I really dug, and the ending of the story and its overall message was honestly uplifting. Pure human gold. I’m giving it a solid three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.