Friday, August 15, 2014

Ark Royal Charms As A Sci-Fi Campout

Ark Royal by Christopher Nuttall won't find fans in everyone. The story is straightforward. The characters are cutouts. The aliens are expectant. The tone is made-for-television military space opera.

And yet, despite several cliches and leaps of faith, Nuttall manages to wrestle what for other authors would be a cliche action story that crosses vintage military naval fiction and colonial adventurism into something surprisingly engaging as it skips along the surface of something infinitely grander. It isn't even hard to imagine why so many people seem to enjoy its predictable fun. It smacks of nostalgic sci-fi pulp fiction.

Ark Royal revives classic British adventurism in space. 

The novel takes place in a far future when humankind has mastered interstellar space travel and set out to colonize new worlds on distant stars. This technological leap has also ushered in a new era of nationalism, with several countries vying to colonize entire worlds in their own image.

Despite it all, expansionism has been relativity tame. With the exception of a few skirmishes between competing interests, the evolution of interstellar empire building has been peaceful. There seems to be enough space for everyone until the inevitable finally happens. Humankind makes first contact.

In this case, first contact comes in the form of an amphibian-like humanoid race that is strikingly similar, albeit slightly more advanced, than humankind. This advantage, however, is more than enough to devastate modern starships, which had been increasingly built for speed and not brute force.

There is one exception. The Royal Navy has preserved an interstellar super carrier, Ark Royal, a historic relic with solid-state armor and an outdated weapons system. Once the pride of the interstellar navy, she now floats in permanent orbit around Earth and serves as a dumping ground for officers and crew that the navy wants to keep out of the public eye, including its alcoholic captain.

In an act of desperation, the navy orders Ark Royal into active service. At her helm, Commodore Sir Theodore Smith leads a rag-tag team of reservists and the dregs of service against a superior enemy aboard a ship that will remind many readers of the seventies military space opera Battlestar Galactica.

The most admirable qualities of the book are its naive enthusiasm combined with some well though out world building. The weakest can be found in its character development and insatiable urge to shrug off conflict, internal or otherwise.

The captain, for example, is an alcoholic. He vows to stop drinking until after the war. For the most part, problem solved. A star fighter pilot learns that her lover has been killed aboard another carrier. She has an affair with a superior officer. Problem solved. The first officer has been asked to spy on the captain. He does with a perfectly appropriate amount of reluctance. Problem solved.

A few more graphs about author Christopher Nuttall. 

It's easy to admire Christopher Nuttall. He often describes himself as a product of his time, born in Edinburgh and shaped in part by what he read — science fiction, fantasy, and thrillers — and the socio-political atmosphere of the United Kingdom since 1982. After studying to become a librarian, Nuttall worked odd jobs while writing alternate history stories until an unlikely thriller changed his life.

It wasn't anything dramatic, he says. It was simply a novel about a protagonist who missed his chance to change his world. And it was the combination of this message and his realization that he could have written a better book that inspired him to try.

After writing his first manuscript in 2005 (which was rejected by publishers), Nuttall received permission from John Ringo to expand upon the author's Posleen universe. It was enough to catapult him toward writing approximately 30 novels, some with publishers and many self-published. Today he lives in Malaysia and writes full time.

Ark Royal By Christopher Nuttall Transverses 3.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

As one of his self-published works, Ark Royal is not without challenges. It could have benefited from better editing and, as mentioned, Nuttall shies away from making his characters suffer. But Ark Royal does a fine job doing what it set out to do. Nuttall is imaginative and writes with a charm that conjures up the adolescent escapist in the people who enjoy his Ark Royal series.

Ark Royal by Christopher Nuttall is available from Amazon. The audiobook, narrated by Ralph Lister, eliminates any printed errors while breathing additional life into the characters. It's especially entertaining for anyone who enjoys a nostalgic space opera. It deserves more merit than you think.
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