Oh, admit it. Spot the imprint of a well-known self-publishing outfit on a book, and immediately you think: this is going to be sub-standard. Copy in need of editing, writing that no traditional publisher would touch with a ten-foot typesetting machine.
But it's a new day, isn't it? Certainly that was my personal bias. Yet today, self-publishing is on the up and up. More and more quality authors are choosing this option to see their way to the bookshelf quicker than a matter of years, keeping tighter control on royalties, doing the promotional and marketing work themselves. There's still a lot of bad writing out there … but among the chaff, there are also books that are golden.
When I picked up Rick Chambers' book after hearing him at an author's reading, I was pretty sure it would rise above the level of chaff. After all, full disclosure, I'd published his work in a past issue of the literary magazine I manage, The Smoking Poet. When the magazine celebrated its fifth anniversary of publication, Chambers was our first author up at the podium. I'd crossed paths with Chambers at several community literary awards events, and it was him walking to the front to receive first prize and more than once. We live in the same city, and around here, his reputation preceded him: Chambers can write.
And still, an old bias dies a slow death, and when I opened the slick covers of Radiance, and started to read … I was taken aback. Hey. This is good. The copy is clean, hardly an error in it (okay, I spotted one or two, but I spot them in bestsellers, too), nice. More to the point: the storyline, the telling and the writing of it, were very good. A few pages in, I was lost in the story, and all thoughts of copy and publisher were faded to mist.
Radiance is a mix of science fiction and faith genres. Think C.S. Lewis with some hard metal of futuristic technology tossed in. Indeed, perhaps this is why Chambers decided to publish the book himself. This kind of premise might be hard to sell to a mass market, and I imagine traditional publishers may have resisted. If so, their loss. I am not a fan of either genre (although I do enjoy C.S. Lewis), but a good story is a good story.
The premise of Radiance is that two mysterious strangers are traveling the galaxy of the future (conclusion of the 21st century), seeking 10 people who have "Radiance." Not an easy task, if not impossible, for humanity by that time has deteriorated to most shallow levels, fueled by greed. The few and the powerful, ruthless in their pursuit of material wealth and control—namely, one Eris Lateinos—are about to take control of both humans and cyborgs. Lateinos rules with a cruel hand. He promises happiness and riches to all, but his promises are false and laced with trickery. He enforces his law with an army of cyborgs, part human, part machine.
Tristan West is seemingly a nobody, once a Lateinos PR man, but now he manages to stand in Lateinos' way at every turn. He has a way of speaking the truth, even when it earns him a pummeling from a cyborg. The two mysterious strangers have connected with him as being one of those who has Radiance, which takes him by surprise. Certainly, he hadn't seen himself as a Christian in a long time …
What unfolds is a fast-paced intergalactic adventure, a thriller, yes, but also a story of enduring faith when there no longer seems any reason to believe. This is not a story that preaches, but that touches lightly on faith-based ideas that survive time and fashion. Intriguing is the question of whether Christianity might have touched on other planets and not just on Earth. How might it be known among other life forms?
Chambers may touch on a bit of cliché now and then, and scenes of alien meeting hooker can be amusing if predictable, but he will surprise the open-minded reader with a fresh take on some very old questions, and manage to entertain while he does so.
Rick Chambers is a communications professional and a former journalist. In addition to Radiance, he is the author of three novelettes, numerous short stories, and a writer for Chronicles, a direct-to-video/online series. He lives in Portage, Michigan.