Review: Skylights, by Luther M. Siler

I’m writing this review for a fellow blogger – Luther M. Siler – who has recently published a sci-fi space opera/crime-fic/robot wars novel. It’s very good. He blogs at infinitefreetime.com and is a teacher-educator-administrator somewhere in the USA. Probably middle America. He is an Apple fan-boi, so we have something in common.

The stars are shining for Skylights!

Luther M. Siler is a prolific blogger I stumbled upon last year and I’ve always enjoyed his small stories about his work life. He writes well, with a keen eye for detail and life’s absurdities. He gratifyingly rarely makes prose errors or spelling mistakes. His style is modern POV, and deeply, deeply funny – and at times surprisingly poignant. Being a sci-fi mini-fanboi, when I read about his new space opera novel Skylights I knew I was destined to read it. I even bought the Kindle edition. Now, given I’m not normally impressed by self-published novels as they can often be appallingly written tripe, I was enjoyably surprised by the quality of Skylights. Siler began this novel by entering the popular and growing NaNoWriMo, winning it in 2008 with this novel.

Let’s begin with the pace and prose. This novel is well written. Laconic, ironic humour laced with some brilliant one-liners and great dialogue, Siler walks a nice line between descriptive writing and action writing. His writing style is unobtrusive and well-edited. Good writing often is; you know it’s good when you’ve finished the novel and you can’t remember when you started reading. I’m a fast reader and Siler’s fast-paced silken prose suits my style. I didn’t get caught up over awkward phrases or phony lines. It just worked.

To the plot. Well, ok, this is always going to be hard. It’s Sci-fi, you know? Therefore a reasonable suspending of disbelief is required when reading the stuff. But it’s fine here. The plot in this space opera is pretty good and mostly believable. The plot is a straight forward chronology, tightly focused on a single team of astronauts travelling to Mars on a recon and rescue mission, and the surprise they fly into. Siler’s understanding of pace and climax, plot twists, cliff-hanger chapter endings, and climactic battle scenes are all fine. The exposition is a little long in comparison with the remainder of the novel, but not tiresomely so – it’s just when you get to the end you realise how much exposition there was. From my perspective this makes the novel just a little unbalanced.

Siler sticks to what he knows about current science and this serves him well. A light touch of the absurd includes tech objects such as i-lids (I’m not explaining this, you’ll have to read the book), BLINKS (hilarious, Siler), and auto-cars, all based on readily available technology, and scarily prescient, I suspect. He also reveals a healthy skepticism about wireless networking, reminding me somewhat of the 2003 Battlestar Galactica series premise. I hear you, Luther.

Characters are well drawn, and I particularly like Gabe and Ezekiel’s cheeky x- and y-gen personas, if for no other reason than they seem authentic. Zvi is an hilariously over the top rendition of a typical stern soldier type, and intended to be a nice foil for his mad-scientist gen-y nephew Zub (Ezekiel). Siler’s writing of women is a little more problematic, given a slight gamer preference for ridiculously GOOD-looking curvy doctors, however at least they are not pneumatic in the way Huxley’s Brave New World paints women. The two women – Kathryn and Celeste, apart from their ridiculously GOOD-looking exteriors, seem like normal, sensible, clever humans who have as much air time as the other characters. Whew, that’s a relief. It’s apparent from Siler’s writing that he has been influenced by a generation of well-written modern sci-fi in which women are, well, fine, if somewhat ridiculously GOOD-looking.

Finally, it’s clear from Siler’s writing style that he is a problem solver. Much of his writing style revolves around fixing stuff, making stuff, wondering how and why stuff works the way it does. He’s a bit of a McGyver, and this is appealing, because sci-fi fans want to know how stuff might work. At the same time I’d like a couple more things from Siler. The first is: more about the living conditions aboard Johannes. I know it falls under the realm of exposition, but with all the problem solving about what’s needed for all the living, we then didn’t get to live it. The second is, dammit Siler, you finished this novel on a cliff-hanger! I need the next novel NOW!

This is a most enjoyable novel, and well worth the tiny $5.00 for an easy day’s read. If you love sci-fi space opera, crime-fic and robot-wars, you will love this novel. 4 stars. You can find the book on Kindle Australian Amazon here.

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