I downloaded this for free as my first foray into the science fiction genre since reading the Dune series some years back. Had someone in another review not turned me on to Stephen Donaldson, I probably would not have read another science fiction novel after reading this book. I have since also read "The Phoenix Rising" hoping that Sanders had acquired an editor and that his writing had subsequently improved, because his ideas are worthwhile and could be entertaining. Based on the price of "Rising," as well as the positive reviews, I assumed this to be the case.*
Anyway, about this book. My complaints for this book are the same for "Rising." Sanders does not explain anything in this book, and rarely paints the image for the reader. Instead, most of the time he just tells you how things are. The other races (Rotham, Polarians) are barely described. He does not give these races their own "personality" or feel, instead they just act like humans. The Polarians basically act like religious humans. The Rotham are so poorly described that I can't produce anything for this review. Sanders managed to stick vampires and werewolves into this book, at which point I almost stopped reading. The clichés are numerous in this book. Nearly every page has major stylistic and grammatical errors. It is just a poorly executed novel, there is no other way to say it.
For a more thorough review, just see my review of "The Phoenix Rising," which I have pasted below for convenience. My complaints are pretty much identical, although I think "Rising" was slightly worse than "Conspiracy."
Sanders needs an editor and a lot more practice.
*I find the number of positive reviews to be suspicious, because the writing is truly bad. I suppose they could all be legit, but it makes no sense. I've read some of Tom Clancy's recent novels and have found them to be atrocious, despite my love of that author's earlier thrillers. The reviews on his books reflect the fact that his novels have declined in quality. That said, any one of his recent novels is better than this book, and I find it hard to believe that so many people are picking this free read up and giving it 5 stars when poorly written books by known authors receive plenty of bad reviews. And yes, I get it that Clancy writes in an entirely different genre of books, my comparison has to do with the technical skill of the two authors. I suppose I have to accept that they are real, but it still seems suspicious to me.
On "The Phoenix Rising:"
One of the most common annoyances I noticed is the author's overuse of sentence fragments. This may sound like nitpicking, and in truth most authors use them for effect from time to time, but Sanders uses them in just about every paragraph in the book. It chops up the narrative horribly and is incredibly distracting to read. Here is an excerpt, picked by going to a random location in the book, to give people the idea:
""Clear! All hands aboard," said a soldier as Calvin ran onto the Alliance ship. Once he was through the hatch, another soldier sealed it and sent word to the Nighthawk. Signaling them to pull away. Hopefully before the Alliance military ships spotted them."
Using sentence fragments once in a while to achieve a specific end is ok, but there is no reason for the whole book to be written like this. It adds absolutely nothing to the writing. I cannot comprehend why there isn't a comma between the words "Nighthawk" and "signalling." (The last sentence is entirely unnecessary as well. Although you'd have to read the book for context, the reader doesn't need to be told that the Nighthawk needed to get out of there before the Alliance ships spotted them.) This sentence fragment business is done so frequently that I often found myself having to stop and re-read passages repeatedly in order to try and interpret what the author's intent was. There are entire paragraphs that might have only a single complete sentence, with the rest being sentence fragments. It lead to a stilted, disjointed narrative. It became quite irritating and distracting, and as far as I am concerned, if the writing itself distracts heavily from the storytelling, that is a huge failure on the part of the author. I try to read every book I buy, but this book is simply a chore to read.
There are other major style issues in the writing. The author never builds the image for the reader; he simply states things. Instead of illustrating a given character's internal conflict, he just tells you about it ("Calvin felt very conflicted..." etc.) Instead of building up suspense when the characters must get something done quickly, he simply tells you "Time was of the essence!" (exact words). Then there are the numerous logic problems (similes that don't make sense, occasional lack of continuity), and awkward character development. In regards to this latter point, one thing that sticks out to me is when the character Shen is getting dating advice. The Shen subplot does not flow naturally into the story line. Instead, it feels stuck in there randomly, as though the author offhandedly decided "Oh, I need some character development, let's have a romance." The scene where Shen was trying to figure out how to approach Sarah was simply poorly and awkwardly written. If it had been a scene in a movie, the entire audience would have been groaning at how lame it was. At the end of it, Shen decides on the super original idea of cooking Sarah dinner in his quarters(which later turns out to be a gourmet salmon dish... in his quarters on a small ship that apparently has enough room for each officer to have his own kitchen, despite being told previously that the ship is so small that only 12 people can fit into the mess hall at a time (lack of continuity)... and why does he have a kitchen if the ship has a central mess hall?). Shen is a sort of secondary character in the book, and at least at this point in the read, I have been given no reason to care about him or his romantic desires.
Finally, there is no explanation of how the technologies they use work. They travel in "alteredspace," but it is never explained what this technology is, how it works, any explanation of it at all. They communicate instantly over light years by something called "kataspace," but what this is or how it works is never detailed. They use a currency called "q" that is never explained. The ship is apparently armed to the teeth (despite being a small stealth ship), but its weaponry is never explained, nor is the relative weaponry of other vessels. Sanders simply tells you that the ship can beat another, or that it has to avoid another because it is more powerful. No illustration of why, ever. What appears to have occurred is that the author simply renamed common sci-fi technologies: alteredspace=hyperspace, kataspace=subspace, q=credits, etc. Since he doesn't explain these things at all, instead of seeming original, it all reads as a cheap rip-off of thousands of other works in the genre.
I feel that if Sanders exercised some control over his writing that this could have been an entertaining space opera. At times I have found myself wondering if Sanders has read the book himself. I wish to stress that my intent with this review isn't to insult the author, it is to help him improve. He seems creative, but badly needs an editor and more practice. I hope he works to improve his writing and perhaps revises this series sometime down the road if he becomes more skilled.
I finished this book. Although the business with Shen eventually had some purpose, it still didn't make sense. It boils down to something like "the girl doesn't like me, so I'll go play in traffic."
After I finished this book, I downloaded "Old Man's War" by John Scalzi. There is no comparison. I encourage Sanders to read Scalzi, Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clark, Robert A. Heinlein, Stephen Donaldson, and others to get an idea of good character development, how to create suspense, how to encourage the reader to suspend disbelief, etc. This book simply doesn't do it. It has a plot that could be very entertaining, but is executed incredibly poorly. Sanders just needs to do better.