Hey Space Cadets, I hope this blog post finds you well. I’m doing well, which is better than I deserve! Before you dive into my review of this novel, let me tell you why I write them, and you should too! These book reviews help the right readers find the right books. They let you, the consumer, tell the author what you think of their books and improve their craft. It helps your fellow readers know what to expect before purchasing the novel because they can access the collective hive mind. And more importantly, they’re a useful metric for booksellers, which helps the author generate inorganic sales. Everybody wins when you write a book review! Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now. Now, without further ado, here is the next installment in my series of book reviews.
Title: Mother Ship
Author: Scott Bartlett
Narrator: Scott Aiello
eBook Price: $3.99 US
Audiobook Price: $21.99 US or 1 Credit
Obtained: I bought this with Audible credits
Pages: 348 Pages
Hours: 10 hours 9 minutes
Rating: 5/5 Grenades
First, let me say that none of what I’ll say in this section couldn’t be found on the back copy of the novel. Heck, I cribbed this summary from the back, and then I added my own twist! And not even much of one, since most of the books I read have kick butt descriptions (aka blurbs). If the blurb doesn’t catch my eye, then I tend to skip the book unless a friend recommends it. Generally speaking, my goal is to provide a spoiler-free review, so here goes nothing!
They’re here… A ship for every city. An invasion force beyond our comprehension. Max Edwards has always felt like something was wrong with the world. Like something was…off. As though his entire life was a lie. Then, it begins. From his friend’s acreage outside Oklahoma City, he witnesses a giant saucer descends from the sky to hover over the city.
Countries all around the world report the same thing – mysterious vessels that refuse all attempts to communicate. As the world comes apart at the seams, Max realizes everything that’s ever happened to him was leading up to this. And as impossible as it seems, he may be the only one with the ability to save humanity. Mere survival won’t be enough. Humanity stands to lose everything. To fight the invaders, Max must forget everything he thought he knew.
This novel had one main character, with several amazing supporting characters. Obviously, I really liked the secondary characters, so much so that I didn’t mind the draft from them exiting stage left. It was like a cool draft on a sweltering summer day. The main character alone was entertaining enough to make it worth the hassle. Each of these secondary characters were well written, and you could feel enough depth to make them believable.
Max Edwards: He’s the main character in this novel, a former high school loner and space nerd who finds himself through the trials and tribulations of plebe year at the US Air Force Academy. We meet him as he’s home for summer leave, which happens just as the aliens arrive overhead. Hey, this isn’t a spoiler… it’s the freaking cover image! He was a likable enough man-child, though his constant teen angst seemed out of place for someone fresh of the yearlong boot camp of the plebe system at the USAFA! I hope that, in the novels that follow, we see him mature into his role as an adult and as a leader of men. While I really enjoyed watching his character grow from boy into man, I felt like that should’ve already happened. A relatively minor quibble and one that didn’t stop me from reading the book. Overall, he still had that high school kid vibe to me, but I have a soft spot for nerds and so I enjoyed this character. Aside from those minor issues, he was a well-rounded character who was sympathetic and believable, precisely what you’d expect from a beloved main character.
Cynthia & Peter Edwards: They’re Max’s parents and helped prepare him for a life of service and duty. They mostly exist off-screen and are shown through Max’s angst, but they’re very much a part of this novel. Paradoxically, they’re the most fleshed-out characters and yet are still enigmas because we know so little about them. I hope that we get to see more of them as this stand-alone novel becomes a series. This is some blatant peer pressure, Scott Bartlett, so make it happen!
Jimmy Somerton: He’s a foil for Max Edwards, the sometimes-loveable pothead who peaked in high school. He went from being the popular ladies’ man that always got the girl, to just another ranch hand on his dad’s acreage. He’s obsessed with aliens and is convinced that they exist and that the government is covering it up. He loves all of the affiliated conspiracy theories about the little green men and their flying saucers. Jimmy originally befriended Max, the unpopular loner, because of his parent’s secretive government job. When Jimmy learned that Max’s parents worked for a government organization in Roswell, New Mexico he was ecstatic. He latched on to Max as a conduit for information and a friendship was born. Once Max started his plebe year at the US Air Force Academy, the friendship became strained. Jimmy was never able to process the changes in their dynamic as his best friend grew into his own. Overall, Jimmy was a mixed bag for me. He was flushed out as a character; I just didn’t like him.
Principal Ted Chambers: He’s a former Navy SEAL turned high school principal who mentored Max Edwards and helped to shepherd him towards a life of service and duty. He’s the sort of character who’s quiet, but fully competent when things get dicey. I really liked reading about this character, he was seriously a lot of fun and someone I could relate to. He was a mix between a lovable paternal assassin and a devoted zen warrior monk, which made him a lot of fun to read about. I honestly my story just about, it could be fun to really dive deep into his psyche. Ultimately, he served to balance out the rough angst-ridden edges of Max, and he did it well. Overall, I found him to be a very believable character. He was well rounded with a fleshed-out back story that we learn about as the novel progresses.
Tara Benson: She’s the female love interest for Max and serves to motivate him. There is plenty more to say about her, but that would lead to spoiler territory.
Like most of the space opera and military fiction, I love to read, and this was an action-packed novel. Seriously, it had me hooked, and I stayed up late to find out how it ended. The main story arc of this novel was expertly done in a way that was easy to follow. It never really lagged for me; the adventure was non-stop, almost too intense even. There were some lulls, in the fun for the reader to catch their breath, but the overall feel of the novel was frenetic and rushed. Not in a bad way, I’m just pointing out that the novel started the intensity at 9 and kept going from there. I was able to suspend my disbelief and buy into the entirety of the premise, so I’d call that a win for Scott Bartlett. Overall, the premise was interesting, and the set-up was well executed. I couldn’t ask for anything more; an excellent premise, perfect execution, and pacing that was mostly on point.
This is one area where I have mixed feelings. I think that author Scott Bartlett created a world that was a lot of fun, with hints at depth, but I was constantly frustrated because there was so much left unexplored. There were a lot of things explored, but I loved the story so much that I wanted more. Always more. That said, his universe did feel real to me, and it was so gripping that I dove in. This novel sucked you in, only stopping to explain the stuff he added to the world as we know it. This worked for the most part; however, but I would have liked to know what everyone looked like. I know this is a modern trend – it is one I do not like. Obviously, you could provide too much description, but I really like it when those details are there. If you’ve read my other reviews, you’ll know this is a constant refrain, so I’ll leave it where it is. On a positive note, I never felt like I was missing critical bits of information, though I do feel like this is a universe where there’s room to expand and flush out the canon. Okay, I’m hinting here, in case Bartlett is reading this, but I wanted more. More books, more characters, and more details. Overall, the world-building was done well, and I was sold on the way it happened. What was there felt believable, and the characters fit within the universe the author created. It was a fun ride, which is the goal of action/adventure authors!
This series had just enough visualization to get the job done, enough that you could imagine yourself in this world. Mostly due to being set in our own time so we could bring our own baggage to the mix. However, I honestly couldn’t tell you where that baggage ends and the book description begins. One place where I wanted to know more was about what the characters looked like. Other than Max’s potential romantic partner, we don’t really know what the characters looked like. When he did describe things, Scott hit the ball out of the park. He covered the entirety of the sensory spectrum; sights, sounds, smells, and even how the world felt. Except, there wasn’t enough for me. Again, I know that there’s a trend where less is more for descriptions, and I hate it. For me, this is one place where I felt let down. In this category, I give the author 4 instead of 5 grenade series.
I listened to this series audiobook, so I wanted to take a second to review the quality of the narration. This novel was narrated by Scott Aiello, which was a little strange for me because he’ll always be the voice of the Gateway to the Galaxy Series by Jonathan Yanez and JR Castle. I did manage to adapt and overcome that eerie feeling that you get when the universe cracks open, and your favorite star appears in the wrong sitcom. Once I dug into this novel, I was able to forget Scott’s past affiliations with other universes. This performance was equally as amazing as his others, Scott Aiello is a consummate professional. He’s one of the “why hasn’t he won more awards” kind of audiobook narrator! Are there even audiobook narrator awards? If not, there should be! The narration was well done; the accents were consistent, and I didn’t want to rip my ears off. There wasn’t a whole lot of range from the character accents, but the narrator did amazing! His audiobook was of a professional quality, so I had nothing to complain about. More importantly, he didn’t commit the Cardinal Sin, which is my only real requirement; he didn’t sound like a robot, he didn’t bore me, and he didn’t use accents that annoy the bejeezus out of me! Overall, I give him 5 out of 5 grenades for his performance.
Okay, this is one area where I am floored by this novel. The current cover for this book is AMAZING! It struck a chord with me, leaning into the classic tropes of the genre, harkening back to the Golden Age of Science Fiction. It had just the right blend of space fleet action and old school sci-fi goodness. There was an iconic flying saucer spaceship shooting a laser downwards towards the planet. A fricking FLYING SAUCER! The dark color scheme for this cover sets the perfect tone for a fun adventure story with just a hint of the grim dark! The book title was brightly colored in such a way that it stood out, but at the same time blended in with the painting used for this cover. The author’s name fit with how Scott Bartlett displays it on all of his other novels. This perfectly brands it and ties it together with his other books. Obviously, I loved it, and I put this as the backdrop for my computer. I give these covers 100 out of 5 grenades, it is that good!
Okay, let’s get into the weeds on this one! I’ve organized my overall assessment by putting the stuff I didn’t like first so we can end on a high note. I also want to be clear that I really loved this novel. This is important because I won’t even write a book review for a novel that is less than 3 stars for me. I just stop reading those books and move on.
Alright, let’s rip off the band-aide and dive in. There were many parts that I wasn’t thrilled with in this novel. First, the lack of details about what the characters looked like and about the alien technology was disheartening. I’m a guy who prefers all of the details, and I just wasn’t given that in this book. I always want to know that the characters look like every visceral detail about them and the world they inhabit.
Another issue with this book was the lack of depth with some of the secondary characters. The main protagonist, Janet, seemed to be evil for its own sake and I feel like fleshing her out could’ve turned this novel from great into a modern classic! We could also use some more from Tara Benson, who seemed to exist more as an idea than as an actual character in this universe. The romantic tension between her and Max seem unfulfilled in a novel that is, as of this moment, only a stand-alone book. She was a useful secondary character, but she was paper-thin.
Keeping with that vein, I would also have liked to see more of the parents, Cynthia and Peter Edwards. They existed more off-screen than on, but there was enough about them that left me wanting to know more. It was a bit of an enigma, these erstwhile parents of our hero character. From recent interviews that Scott Bartlett has given, I know that a sequel is in the works. I hope that as he continues to grow the universe, we learn more about some of the intriguing secondary characters.
Finally, one of the things that I found that I didn’t like was how abrupt and jarring the ending felt. One minute we’re fighting the Big Baddie, then BAM and the book is over. The novel was sufficiently long, it was just that the ending felt abrupt. Not quite a cliffhanger, but it was close. I think that as the second novel comes out for readers to dive into it will feel less abrupt. Speaking as a reader, I can forgive a lot if I know there is more available in another book.
Alright, now let’s talk about the happy things! I chose this book because the cover stood out to me. There’s something about the way that it harkens back to the classic campy science fiction that I grew up loving that calls to me. This was clearly classic Tom Edwards covers, but I’m cheating because I know that Scott uses him almost exclusively.
Speaking the classics, one of the great things about this novel was how he well Scott Bartlett was at weaving several classic tropes into his novel in a new and interesting way. The flying saucers of old were used in a way that was fun and nostalgic for the old SF art I still drool over. To see that on the cover image and incorporated into the story was a hoot. Not to say that this was a comedy because it wasn’t, but that little nod to the ghost of science fiction past was fun.
There was a little bit in this novel for everyone; artificial intelligence, post-apocalyptic preppers, all facets of the military science fiction that we love all wrapped up in a coming of age story. This action-adventure story even had zombies that weren’t exactly zombies and a first contact scenario. I really loved how Scott took all of those tropes from the old science fiction stories and turned them into something new. He even incorporated the Area 51 conspiracies and the Roswell, New Mexico crash landing into his story. Seriously, Scott reinvigorated all of the classic tropes in a way that I haven’t seen done anywhere else.
All of those tropes, viewed through the lens of the action-adventure story, keeping the tension up the entire time. This novel was an emotional rollercoaster that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. While I could predict where the story was going, I was constantly surprised at how Scott got us there. This story is the perfect reminder that the journey is as important as the destination. Mother Ship definitely hit on all of the tropes that I love about science fiction, but not in a way that felt derivative. Scott carried it out in a way that was uniquely his.
Speaking of that journey, I did enjoy how Scott got creative with the tactics in his story. There are only so many ways to fight off hordes of mindless zombie-like humans. However, when we incorporate the technology into the plot things got interesting. He made tech that, through the power of handwavium, could do amazing things. He turned that into innovative tactics when the spaceships went pew-pew. It was unexpected, a pleasant surprise that had me wanting to clap for Scott! Good thing I didn’t, because I was driving! I wish I could elaborate, but that would veer into spoiler territory, so you’ll have to take my word for it or read the book.
I also loved how beautifully Scott turned the prose in this story. The writing was clean and professionally written, which made the amazing plotline pop and sizzle even more. I’m sure his English Lit professors are proud that he learned all the things. I could ramble on about this facet of the novel, but it would pale in comparison to Scott’s work so instead, I’ll tip my hat and move on!
One place where Scott’s fancy-pants literary skills were obvious was in character development. I really enjoyed watching Max grow throughout the novel. I’ve read a lot of the author’s other works and this is an area where the author showed growth as a creator. I can’t really say anything else about the specific category because that would give spoilers, but trust me, it’s worth waiting for the big reveal later in the series.
My one major complaint about science fiction stories is how little the act of killing effects the characters. I’ve been in situations where you were required in someone else’s life, thank you Iraq, and there is always an emotional response to the action. In Mother Ship, Scott definitely didn’t fall into that trap. The main character, Max, goes out of his way to avoid having to take a life and when he does it is obvious that it tears him up inside. None of that angst was overdone, though there were a few places where the sergeant in me wanted to slap the damn Zoomie and tell him to take his head out of his ass. Damn cadets, not even smart enough to be lieutenants!
One of the overarching themes of the book that I enjoyed was the classic story of good versus evil. This was your typical David versus Goliath story except you had kick-ass rifles instead of the iconic slingshots. While the main character wasn’t quite the everyman, given his chosen one status, he was close enough that you ended up rooting for him. A few times I almost cheered as the bad guys got taken down a peg or two. There’s a certain character whose face you want to smash in, but luckily Max wants to do the same thing, and so you have the hope that you’ll get a vicarious thrill of living through him. Isn’t that why we read fiction in the first place?
In conclusion, I was hooked from the first page/minute! Scott Bartlett wove the action into this fun classic space opera romp that made me lose track of time. Basically, he had me hooked from the beginning and kept it going throughout the whole novel. I would happily recommend this book. He is an author I will definitely read again. Seriously, buy this novel! But hey, it’s easy to spend someone else’s money! I give these books a 5 out of 5 grenades!
If this book sounds like it’s right up your alley, check it out! You won’t regret it! Well, unless it keeps you up all night and you’re late to work… and then your boss fires you because you became a book addict and a rabid Scott Bartlett fan. And then you track him down and climb into his window in your skivvies, and he shoots you with his phasers set to kill. Or he sicks his assassin moose after you to torment you with Rocky Bullwinkle jokes as he gorges you with his antlers. Okay, the fanboy/fangirl syndrome MIGHT kill you. Be warned, but enjoy the high!
Until next time, stay frosty, and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
–> As usual, all images came from Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are used on the Fair Use Doctrine.