Avalon was the flagship of the Castle Federation in the last war, now twenty years past. The first of the deep space carriers, no other warship in the fleet holds as many honors or has recorded as many kills. No other warship in the fleet is as old. Accepting the inevitable, the Federation Space Navy has decided to refit her and send her on a tour of the frontier, showing the flag to their allies and enemies as a reminder of her glory – and then decommission her for good. But Avalon has been a backwater posting for ten years – and has problems a mere refit can’t fix. The systems along her planned tour have been seeing pirates for the first time in decades, and there are rumblings of Commonwealth scouting ships all along the border. It may be Avalon’s final tour – but it looks to be anything but quiet!
This review is going to seem critical, so I want to start by saying that I enjoyed the read. The new cover drew me in when I saw it on netgalley. If it had the cover featured on Goodreads, I would not have requested it. I still was reluctant to read it because there are a few negative reviews that left me wondering. There is even a plot point in the beginning of the book that had it been written differently, I would’ve stopped reading. It made me angry – but in a good way. I’ve always felt that fiction should make us feel something. Space Carrier Avalon is an engrossing read.
The book is not without issues though. My biggest complaint is the character’s continuous use of another character’s full name and rank. Rank is usually truncated in the military. I can sometimes overlook it if the story is about a paramilitary organization, but the Castle Federation series is straight military sci-fi. No one would’ve ever called me “Mechanical Gas Turbine Systems Technician Second Class Petty Officer Mark Gardner-” they would’ve called me “GSM2 Gardner,” “Petty Officer Gardner,” or simply “Gardner.” (Even subordinates.)
Which brings me to another peeve about this story. Most of the commissioned & enlisted crew would’ve called each other by their last names. In this novel, first and last names are used interchangeably, and I spent the first quarter of the book just trying to figure out who everyone was. This resulted in a lot of flipping back to see who was who. When I was on active duty, I spent almost all my time with another turbine tech- duty rotations, visits to the galley, etc. I didn’t even know his first name for two or three months.
I get that this is supposed to be hard sci-fi, and some people love all the little technical details, (I imagine people playing Warhammer 40k with their tape measures, and other accouterments) but there was way too much technical information for me taste. I really didn’t need to know warhead yields, the percentage and implementation of mass manipulators, or even the progression of shipbuilding in the world. Maguffins are perfectly fine in futuristic sci-fi; especially with faster than light travel. It just seemed like the author spent an inordinate amount of time explaining tech that seemed to slow down the story.
Of course I experienced the opposite of this when it came to the origin of the Castle Federation and the disposition of Earth. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the book that I realized that Earth and the Terran Commonwealth were the antagonists, and the Castle Federation were descendants of humanity trying to live the Libertarian dream of being left alone with the overzealous Terrans trying to unify the universe under their banner. Some creepy Manifest Destiny stuff.
Overall, I liked Space Carrier Avalon. I especially liked the concept of the protagonists effectively being aliens, and Earth being the “bad guys.” Not everyone would agree with my quibbles about the story, and that’s cool. Fandom is a varied and splendiferous thing. Kudos to the author for the Star Trek references – they made me smile. I’d give this story four stars, and a warning of a sexual assault as a plot point in the beginning of the story in case someone would be triggered by that. I’ll definitely read the next in the series if it wanders my way.
Glynn Stewart is the author of Starship’s Mage, a bestselling science fiction and fantasy series where faster-than-light travel is possible–but only because of magic. His other works include science fiction series Duchy of Terra, Castle Federation and Vigilante, as well as the urban fantasy series ONSET and Changeling Blood. Writing managed to liberate Glynn from a bleak future as an accountant. With his personality and hope for a high-tech future intact, he lives in Kitchener, Ontario with his wife, their cats, and an unstoppable writing habit.