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Monday, November 15, 2010

Seeing Stars: A Review of "CassaStaR"

           Let me start with the negative part of this review.  I'm not a big fan of outer space and star wars type stories.  I don't think I've read anything like this since I was a kid, and I used to be a big scifi reader.  I would eat up stuff like CassaStaR when I was a young lad.  In college my predilections changed to a more of this world and of our era sort of story, although I've continued to enjoy good effects-driven space movies.  I thought that I'd outgrown scifi, but Alex J. Cavanaugh has shown me that the genre is healthy and good reading for adults.

            Cavanaugh has taken a timeworn traditional format and dusted it off with a fresh new point of view.  CassaStaR follows cocky star rookie Byron through his training to fulfill his dream of becoming a Cosbolt pilot.  His superior, Bassa, recognizes both Byron's obvious and hidden talents, and becomes determined to turn him into the best he can be.  Bassa has a real challenge ahead to tame Byron's ego and fear of intimacy.
With the help of his mentor, Byron experiences growth and learns worthy values such as friendship, trust, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

            Aside from what I felt to be a tacked on and unnecessary prologue, the early chapters seem tedious and slow.  They act as the typical character and story introductions.  After a while I was becoming impatient for something to actually happen in the story.  Then I realized that Cavanaugh has used this device to put us in the same mindset of the characters in the story.  I, the reader, was right there in the midst of the training.  I was feeling the same impatience to see action as the trainees were.  This was a clever way of injecting the reader into the mind of Byron.

            Once the training is over, the main story begins and the reader is ready to fly.  Here is where the real conflicts--inside Byron and on the battlefield--begin.  The action is well paced and exciting.  Often the battle scenes put me in mind of old World War Two aerial battle stories with dogfights.  At other times I felt like I was inside of a space war video game, all flashing lights and effects. 

            This action is well separated with the breathers that depict the men in the dining halls and getting to know one another.  My favorite scene was the stopover at a spaceport where they encounter the wilder elements of their intergalactic society--the trade, the recreation, and exposure to other life forms.  I hope to see more of this in future books of the series. 

             Alex J. Cavanaugh took great care in writing this book.  It reads well.  I tried to stay on the alert for errors or bad writing, but there was nothing here to trip me up.  The writing is concise and precise.  There is a certain air of sterility to the style, but I was able to dismiss this readily due to the nature of the characters and their environment.  The style held my attention and compelled me to keep reading.

             Also, there is virtually nothing to offend anyone except the person who becomes offended in the most bizarre ways and I'm not sure who that person would be.  The language is polite, grammatically correct, and avoids obscenity.  This last point is a big one with me.  I am one who believes that good writing can convey emotions or whatever without the distraction of obscenity.  This book would be fine for any young person.  It could also be quite acceptable as classroom reading since it touches upon so many topics that can stimulate discussion.  If you're considering this book as a gift for a young reader, you will be doing well to get it.

           Now for some silly stuff.   After all this is me, Arlee Bird, and I can get pretty much out there sometimes.  Maybe it's good or maybe it's not--you be the judge--but one of the things that starts happening when I read science fiction is that my willing suspension of disbelief gets taxed and I start wondering about this thing or that.   Like what's the deal with water on the mother ship? 

         This Byron guy takes more long showers than anyone I've ever seen.  And if the other guys are even taking half the showers, that's a lot of water!  I realize this space ship is huge, but they must have a water reservoir that's the size of a lake.  And what about the water recycling facilities, and not only for water but for air?  I understand they have this biosphere place, but I was just trying fathom it all as I was reading.

         Then there's the meat.  The guys on this ship are really a bunch of carnivores.  Do they raise meat producing animals on the space ship?  A lot of guys are being fed on this ship: How do they maintain the food supply?  I'm more used to thinking about Tang and food squeezed from tubes.

           Sorry, this is just me and science fiction.  I'm a behind the scenes kind of guy.  I want to know how things work.  I like to hear about logistics and behind the scenes stuff.  All the battles are exciting and all, but what about the meat?   And do they have dessert?   Sorry Alex, but that's the way I think sometimes.

         I look forward to the future installments of Alex J. Cavanaugh's saga of the Cassans.  If the upcoming books are as well written as CassaStaR, then we are in for a treat.  This is fun reading that puts across a positive message.   CassaStaR is a book that science fiction fans will really appreciate, but all fiction fans can enjoy.


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26 comments:

  1. I too have read CassaStar though I have never been a Sci Fi fan, I did enjoy it and it whetted my appetite for any more follow ups in the future,
    You wrote a good review and I think you gave a good and honest opinion.

    Have a good day.
    Yvonne.

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  2. Thanks for the review, Lee. Guess you'll have to use your imagination on some of those items. I didn't want to get bogged down with technical details, as they get in the way when I am reading. I don't want to know how something works, only that it does.

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  3. I really enjoyed CassaStar too. I am a sci-fi fan and thoroughly enjoyed the story. The characters are very vivid and the plot is lots of fun :)

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  4. I enjoy science fiction, even the outer-space kind of thing, so I really want to read CassaStar, not only because there's a lot of blogger attention focused on it!

    Nice review of the book.

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  5. Nice review. Sounds like an interesting book.

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  6. As I said once before, Arlee, you should really start writing book reviews professionally.

    "I am one who believes that good writing can convey emotions or whatever without the distraction of obscenity"
    I couldn't agree more. This goes for music and films as well.

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  7. What an amazingly detailed review! The water issue is thought-provoking. I guess when world-building there can be a magical solution that wouldn't happen in our everyday lives here on earth. I was interested in your comment about the book being appropriate for young readers. Now you've got me thinking of ways I might bring it into my art program at the elementary school.

    Thanks,
    Monti
    MaryMontagueSikes

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  8. Wow. Interesting review, thanks Lee!

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  9. The idea of the endless long, hot showers is amusing me! Don't you love it when facts like that jump out at you?

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  10. Yvonne -- Thank you

    Alex -- Yes, you know I can get silly sometimes. I figure if a book makes you do some extra thinking you get your money's worth.

    Jemi -- I liked the fact that the book didn't get all geeky technical and all.

    Golden Eagle -- Alex certainly has garnered the blogger attention for his first book and he deserves it.

    Christine -- Thank you for stopping to leave your comment.

    Dezmond -- You and I are in agreement on this matter of obscenity and I'm glad you keep the campaign going.

    Monti -- CassaStaR certainly provides plenty of topics for thought and discussion. I think it would be totally suitable for middle school or high school study.

    Matthew -- Thanks!

    Debbie -- Sometimes I can get fixated on something when I'm reading. Of course, one might interpret the showering behavior as something that reveals a deeper psychological aspect to the character of Byron. Maybe I'm thinking too much.

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  11. Thanks, Jemi! Glad you enjoyed it.

    Golden, thanks!

    Dezz, I prefer a lack of obscenity in my entertainment as well.

    Monti, that would be awesome!

    Debbie, they don't really take long, hot showers. But really, would you want to hang out with a bunch of dirty, smelly fighter jocks?

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  12. I'm a big fan of sci fi movies and TV series, but I've never been one to read much sci fi. With the wonderful reviews I've been reading about CassaStar I'm going to have to expand my reading generes again. Enjoyed the review. Especially enjoy a book that makes you feel a part of it while you read.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  13. I am a huge fan of Sci Fi. CassaStar is awesome. Great review, Lee. You always do a great job with reviews.

    T

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  14. Since I enjoy character-driven stories, I'm glad he focused on character-building rather than world-building. Those details would've bored me.

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  15. LEE ~
    "The meat is people!"

    Where did you think dead fighter pilots go?
    Straight to the kitchen!

    You don't even want to get me started on the "water" question!

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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  16. I'm a huge Alex fan, but I am very poor, I was hoping I would win a copy.. ;} this is a great review, makes me want more, but I like stories that include hot men taking long showers, or is that men taking long hot showers..

    evil grin

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  17. Great review. Personally I don't need to know about the meat...it's what I don't like about scifi a lot fo the time. Explanations often take away from the story. If they are cleverly injected, then that's okay -- As long as it's not a glaring mistake in the world.

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  18. Mason, that's good to hear!

    Thanks, Teresa!

    Seductress, you and Old Kitty really got a thing for my male characters, don't you?

    Lynda, then my lack of 'meat' should entice you then!

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  19. I'm not a fan of sci-fi, but this review entices me to read this book. I hope I can afford next month to buy it. Good job, Arlee and Alex!!
    Ann

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  20. Mason -- It's a character story and you might prefer that to some science fiction.

    Teresa -- You are so kind. Thank you.

    L. Diane -- I prefer the character driven stories, but I can't help but wonder about the behind the scenes stuff.

    StMc -- Okay, I won't ask about the water any more.

    Invisible-- I don't know how hot the Bryon character is, but I thought he took a lot of showers. But we like clean characters.

    Lynda -- I'm one of those people who like to watch all the how-did-they-do-that extras on the DVD. Alex doesn't bog things down in the book. I guess I'll have to wait for the annotated edition to get the quirky info.

    Ann -- I hope you can get a copy and then tell your reader friends about it so they can get one too. Support your local bloggers!

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  21. This is a fun review, Lee. I enjoyed the questions you raised. I have no trouble suspending reality, so I would have assumed an advanced water purification system and a store of dried protein products that reconstitute into edible stuff that looks like real meat. See how easy it is?

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  22. Patricia -- Thank you. I was just funnin' with Alex. I had those same solutions in mind, but even so-- supplying a large space ship would require a tremendous amount of logistics. Storage and replenishment of goods, recycling and reclamation, and all those kinds of things are the things I wonder about. It's kind of like the old astronaut question of "How do you go to the bathroom?" Questions that someone has to figure out, but we rarely hear the answers for--the stuff we all usually take for granted.

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  23. I appreciate that Alex wrote the book without tossing in bad language just for the heck of it. Like I tell my sons, there's always more than one way to say something. That's the mommy in me coming out :)

    Thanks for your in-depth review!

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  24. Ann, I hope you get the chance to read it.

    Patricia, it is easy, isn't it?

    Julie, this may sound harsh, but I believe that foul language is a sign of low intelligence.

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  25. Good review Lee, honest and refreshing~ I guess
    the behind the scenes depends on the styling of the author. I bet you filled in the blanks with your creative mindset. I can't wait to read it, you made me want to go dig it out of the closet and begin.(It is for my son for Christmas) I'll behave, for now ;-D

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  26. I'm just about to start reading Cassastar once I've done my blog quota for the day :) I'm really looking forward to it, although like you sci-fi isn't my genre of choice. Still, the buzz that it's been getting means it's gonna be one hell of a ride!

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