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Solar Clipper Series by Nathan Lowell

Free audiobook series claiming to be science fiction

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Not quite Sci-fi (at least to us stuck up snobs)

  • Sep 2, 2010
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And now for something completely different.  This is a "so called" science fiction series that is available for free in audio book form at podiobooks.  The first book is Quarter Share.

What caught my interest was that the star rating for the first book, Quarter Share, on Amazon is: 39 5-stars, 3 4-stars, 2 3-stars and a 2-star and 1-star.  That is a very sharp distribution.  With 39 5-stars I would expect a lot more 4-stars.  Sometimes the 4-stars are greater than the 5s.  


So I decided to download and listen to the MP3s.  I would call it a pleasant story.  I would not really call it science fiction.  For people that insist that it is sci-fi since it has space ships then it is VERY BLAND science fiction.  If I had to actually READ it I would never finish.  Listening is a lot easier than reading.

This is a story of an 18 year old kid that has to leave a company planet because his college professor mother is killed in a flying accident.  The company won't let him stay on the planet and the only way off under his on steam is joining the crew of a solar clipper ship.  That is the bland thing about this story.  This tale could basically be retold in the old days of sail clipper ships.  The science and technology don't really make this story happen.

According to Theodore Sturgeon, "A good science fiction story as one that could not happen at all without its science content."  The Solar Clipper Series does not really make the grade.  The individual that gave the series 1-star pretty much said that.  It wasn't me.

The spacer certification method in the story just involves passing tests and apparently this character, Ishmael, is a wiz at memorizing and passing tests so he is able to qualify for many spacer jobs quickly.  He is also a secret computer wiz which turns up in the 3rd story.

Of the five stories Double Share is the best.  It begins after Ish has graduated from spacer college and becomes a third mate.  He is assigned to a ship with serious social problems and Ishmael is the unwitting sacrificial lamb.  This story at least has some conflict to raise it above the bland boredom of others in the series.  Full Share and Captain's Share are the next best stories but Quarter Share and Half Share are in the stagnant doldrums.  They just can't catch a breeze.   I don't understand how it got 39 5-star ratings.  They aren't even as good as the Star Trek novels that I usually avoid.  But then some people like Harry Potter.

Nathan Lowell is a good reader and there is some nice Irish music in the MP3 files.  But these things are recorded at 128 Kbps so one audiobook takes up about 500 megabytes.  I use Audacity to convert them to 32 Kbps and increase the speed 20% so they play faster and only use up 100 megabytes.  I rip CDs at 320 Kbps for better sounding music but mere speech hardly sounds any better at 128K compared to 32K.  It's just a waste of space.

Here are the podiobooks links:


But I would suggest looking for something better.

Not quite Sci-fi (at least to us stuck up snobs)

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September 13, 2010
I listened to one of the audio clips you referenced, and it sure sounds like science fiction to me. People on other planets, run by corporations, a guy can't fit into the system and so he gets on a crew of spacers. Advanced technology, degraded social structure, so both sociological developments and advanced space travel are here. Also the narrator is dealing with age old problems of acceptance and so on, so this is also fiction aspect of it.  I only heard the first part of Chapter 1, so I can't really rate the series.  It was a good set-up and I'd give that part a 3 out of 5.  :)
September 15, 2010
There has been plenty of science fiction that people called "space westerns" or "pirates in space". Replace the wagons or sailing ships with space ships and the six-shooters with blasters and it's "science fiction".

In the first story if you just replace the planets with islands in the ocean and different countries on various continents and replaces the space ships with sailing ships then the story could be unchanged. The technology did not really FORCE CHANGE and a new kind of story.

In the Bujold story, Barrayar, for example the uterine replicator made things possible that could not happen without the technology. That is more real SCIENCE FICTION. That technology did more interesting things than the space ships in MAKING THE STORY. It is like what cheap computers can do to our society but we must decide what to do with them. The book "The Da Vinci Code" is about one megabyte. So these $300 netbooks can hold more than 100,000 books. With educational software how much information can be given to a kindergarten kid today. Could that not actually eliminate traditional schooling for a significant percentage of schooling. Who gets to select what 100 gigabytes of software/information gets put on those computers? E-books don't really change literature but they alter price and availability, especially of out of print and out of copyright books. H. Beam Pipers The Cosmic Computer is better than Nathan Lowell's Solar Clipper series. Much greater intellectual depth.

Theodore Sturgeon: "To me it is telling a story of humanly understandable problems and giving them a humanly understandable solution. Now, this makes it fiction, but casting the whole thing in a narrative, which could not occur without the science aspect--and to me that is what science fiction is."

There is SCIENCE fiction and there is science FICTION. The Solar Clipper series doesn't cross over to the SCIENCE making the story level. Doesn't even have interesting aliens that could not be met without FTL technology. .
September 15, 2010
Wow, what a reply! OK, I see your view on science fiction, but you threw in that whole education and netbook thing which I did not quite follow. Gene Roddenberry did say his Star Trek was really a Western, but spaceships instead of horses and Matt Dillion rather than James Kirk. It's all a matter of viewpoint, really. Regardless, the Solar Clipper series looks interesting. I have not read Bujold and think I should start! I've been so involved in the old time sci fi that I have not read a lot of "new" stuff like from Haldeman, Robert Jordan, Tim Zahn, etc.
September 15, 2010
In the case of Gene Roddenberry you need to separate the marketing from what Star Trek really was and what he wanted it to be.  Gene had to SELL the product to the studio executives to get them to come up with the money.  So he sold them "Wagontrain to the Stars".  Westerns were popular in the sixties.  The corporate executives didn't care about science fiction they wanted to make money.

But they turned down his first pilot "The Cage".  Roddenberry didn't really want to make a Wagontrain to the Stars.  The weird thing is that they let him make a second pilot.  The second was more conventional but the first one was more in the spirit of REAL SCIENCE FICTION.

The netbook business is about the relevance of science fiction to Science and Technology and what happens in the REAL WORLD we are stuck with now.  We live in a science fiction society.  In the 1960s we couldn't give computers to kindergarten kids that were more powerful than 1980 mainframes.  In the 60s we didn't know how powerful 1980 mainframes would be.

But having technology and deciding what to do with it are two different things.  We still have to decide how to use these computers especially in education.  Any mediocre teacher that isn't worried about his job is a fool.  But are those mediocre teachers going to try to interfere with what we can do with this technology?  Why don't we constantly hear about what was done with computers at Vero Beach High School in 1987?


The really interesting thing about that incident is that it was done because the teachers didn't want to be bothered with the BAD students.  So it raises the question of what computers could have done for GOOD students.
September 15, 2010
Oh yes, I have known that lack of education is a major cause of crime. When I see the California governor cutting back education funding even more than it already has, I see a lack on the part of the Republicans any kind of understanding in education and crime. Cutting out school programs and closing playgrounds, what's an illiterate kid going to do with his time? Duh! Good points all.
September 05, 2010
Good review, especially reference to podcasts. Good idea!
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All of Lowell's novels so far are set in a science fiction universe he calls the "Golden Age of the Solar Clipper". The "... Share" novels follow the adventures of Ishmael Wang, a young man who becomes orphaned at the start of Quarter Share and signs up to work on a merchant ship, the Lois McKendrick. The books' titles refer to how much share of the ship's profits a crewman receives at different job levels. South Coast is a spin-off but stand-alone novel sub-titled "A Shaman’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper", set in the same universe but focused on St Cloud, a single fishing planet and the coming of age of Otto Krugg, the only son of Richard Krugg and heir to the Shaman’s Gift.


Dr. Nathan Lowell holds a Ph.D. in Educational Technology with specializations in Distance Education and Instructional Design. He also holds an M.A. in Educational Technology and a BS in Business Administration. He grew up on the south coast of Maine and is strongly rooted in the maritime heritage of the sea-farer. He served in the USCG from 1970 to 1975, seeing duty aboard a cutter on hurricane patrol in the North Atlantic and at a communications station in Kodiak, AK. His shipboard experiences serve as inspiration for much of the shipboard life on the Lois McKendrick.

He currently lives far from the sea in the plains east of the Rocky Mountains with wife and two daughters.

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