Quarter Share

Cover:  Quarter Share by Nathan Lowell

Quarter Share by Nathan Lowell is a science fiction adventure that is definitely something of an acquired taste.

The plot follows the career of Ishmael Wang as he takes up life in deep space as a crewman aboard the Lois McKendrick, gets his space legs, and becomes a contributing member of the crew.

It’s a book that trades the epic space adventures and seat-of-your-pants action scenes you’ll see in most interstellar science fiction for a more realistic take on life aboard a starship.

And that is very cool.

Details

TitleQuarter Share
SeriesTrader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 1
AuthorNathan Lowell
PublisherDurandus, 2013
GenreScience fiction
Intended audience13+
Rating8 of 10
Will I read the next one?Tried it.  Did not finish.  (See What’s Next) for details.

What to expect

Quarter Share is an interesting study in worldbuilding from the perspective of an average-ish guy.  The normal characters open up an entirely different corner of science fiction that readers rarely get to see.  In this book, you’ll find:

  • A look at space-faring life aboard an interstellar tradeship.
  • Worldbuilding at the shipboard level.
  • Character progression through study and hard work.
  • Sexy ladies.  (Foreshadowing.)
  • Likable, also-average characters.

Our plucky hero doesn’t get swept up into some kind of an intergalactic conflict.  He’s not an ace fighter pilot, a soldier in the middle of a war, or a mystic with a laser sword and mystical powers.

He’s just a normal guy trying to figure out what to do with his life.

Warnings

Is this series done?Yes.  This six-book series was completed in 2014.
Any graphical content?Lightly sexual content.
How long is this book?Short-to-average.

Recommendation

This book is perfect for sci-fi readers looking for a change of pace from typical military sci-fi and/or the ultra high-stakes sci-fi with aliens and universe-ending consequences.

This book is much more low-key.

If you want action and adventure with space battles and explosions, this book will disappoint you.


Overview (minor spoilers)

You could almost describe Quarter Share as a story where nothing significant happens in the grand scheme of things.

There is some notable tension to open the story. Ishmael’s mother dies in a flitter (car) crash, leaving him penniless and with few options.  Unfortunately, Ishmael’s mother is a professor on a corporate world.  Without her, he’ll get kicked off the company-owned planet and accrue a substantial fee in the process.  (That’s bad.)

This leaves Ishmael with little choice but to go with the proverbial flow and figure out how to voluntarily leave the planet before his grace period and funds run out.  Ishmael heads down to the docks and tries to find a way aboard a space freighter to start a new life as a spacer.

This is all well and good, and it kickstarts the “go with the flow” mindset that Ishmael continues to maintain throughout the course of the book (and on into the rest of the series).

But it’s worth noting that this is pretty much as tense as the book ever gets.  Everything else is pretty mellow, and the tension is relatively low-stakes.

But … that’s not a bad thing.

What works

I think Quarter Share is the first book I’ve read in the science fiction space that takes the slice-of-life vignetting you’d typically see in some mainstream fiction and applies it to life aboard a ship.

Ishmael’s onboarding and getting started were probably the two most entertaining parts of the book for me.  As he makes his way aboard the Lois McKendrick, we’re introduced to a host of characters, including Cookie, Pip, and Bev, as well as the captain and the first mate.

Many of these characters become mainstays throughout the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, and Lowell does a pretty good job carving out their niches and giving them their own set of mundane problems.

Pip, for example, is Ishmael’s partner in the galley when he first comes aboard.  But we learn pretty quickly that Pip is struggling to do anything else with his life.  On that front, our main character becomes a new variable among the crew members of the Lois, and, being a team player, Ishmael works with them to solve their problems while making headway on his own.

For me, this is where the book really began to resonate.

Ishmael is adrift, but he clearly aspires to something — even if he’s not exactly sure what it is.  Fortunately, opportunities abound.

Lowell’s depiction of space life comes with opportunities for advancement by studying for tests.  Passing the test can help you earn a berth with better benefits (such as a greater weight allocation for your trip) and a larger share of the profits when the ship completes a successful trade route.

It’s interesting, and found the structure and order with which Lowell lays out the systems to be pretty logical for the world.

What doesn’t

My main gripe is that Ishmael is just so great at everything.  It’s a little bit of a Gary Stu situation, but it’s not as easily defined. 

For example, all of the basic tests that Ishmael goes through are pretty easy and, since he doesn’t know what he wants to do, he just decides to test in everything.

It’s easy to explain all of that away with a hand wave by saying that the tests are easy (entry-level) and that he studies hard, which is demonstrated throughout the narrative.  Ishmael is stuck on a ship for months at a time with nothing to do but study.

But it just feels too easy — especially since Pip is struggling so hard to advance and almost everyone else seems comfortable with their own positions and not interested in advancement … which is another head-scratcher, considering that the characters all seem relatively young and the stakes are earning a greater share in profits.

While I understand that everyone isn’t in it for the money, it seems like it would be more common for characters of this age to be a little more ambitious about their status and earnings.

Plus, because Ishmael is completing tests across multiple disciplines and in record time, it makes everyone else feel somewhat stagnant when they talk about their own career trajectories and aspirations.

This improves somewhat in the next book, Half Share, but that improvement is overshadowed by some other problems (see below).

What’s weird/unique

Overall, Lowell doesn’t really deviate from this slice-of-life style.

The ship is never attacked by bandits or waylaid by pirates.  They aren’t boarded.  Nothing goes wrong when they make a hyperspace jump.  There aren’t any guns, spacewalks, or flashy dogfights.

Even life off the ship is pretty boring, in the sense that all of the orbital stations where the Lois makes port are designed to look the same.

And while those aren’t inherently bad things, Lowell does shove the onus of entertainment onto the shoulders of Ishmael and the rest of the cast.

And, since Ishmael is a mostly stable character and life aboard the ship is mostly a low-drama affair, the result is a book where very little feels like it happens from start to finish.

The weird part?  Somehow, this all works beautifully.

What’s next?

And now for the rough part.

I really enjoyed Quarter Share.  I’d recommend it to your wish list as the thing you read after you just finished up a huge epic like Red Rising or The Expanse so that you can recharge your batteries and cleanse your palette.  It’s great for that.

However, the other books in the series were a complete miss for me.  I went into Half Share with high expectations.  The first half of the novel reads in a pretty similar way to Quarter Share, before it gets diverted with a cheesy romance plot that slowly begins to take over the entire story.

I powered through Half Share and decided to roll the dice on Full Share, but it quickly became a DNF for me.  The romance and rough writing persisted and ultimately turned me off to the rest of the series.  And not just me.  Many other readers also encountered these same issues.  It’s a noticeable deviation from the first book.

However, while that means it’s not for me, it might be for you.  If you check out other online reviews, you’ll quickly find that all the books are highly rated.

It’s all going to come down to how much you can tolerate (somewhat) cheesy romance writing.

Full respect to Mr. Lowell for the great world-building and the wonderful first book in the series, but I wish the character development would’ve gone in a different direction for the rest of the series.

Get this book

AmazonLink
AudibleLink