Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Review: Under the Ember Star by Charles Gramlich

When it comes to publicity, those of us who do our own thing often feel an obligation to pay it forward. If a fellow author writes a good review of one of our books, we often feel obligated to go out and read one of theirs, and if the work warrants it, return the favor. I don't feel this is in any way underhanded or "cheating"; take a look at the cover copy of a lot of bestselling fiction out there, and you'll often see quotes from authors in the same genre extolling the book's virtues. Hell, Tom Clancy, Larry Bond, Dale Brown, and Harold Coyle were a veritable Mutual Appreciation Society of military techno-thriller writers who all praised each others' latest works.

When Operation Bedlam was released, blogger and writer Chris La Trey was kind enough to write me a review, both on Amazon and on his blog. The blog post contained a couple of other works, all of which I immediately went out and bought. One of these was Charles Gramlich's science fiction novel, Under the Ember Star. I'd read Gramlich's fantasy short story, Harvest of War, and enjoyed it, but like a chump, I'd never written a review. Feeling guilty, I sat down a couple of nights ago and began reading Gramlich's novel. Allow me to quote from Amazon's product description:

"Ginn Hollis was fourteen when her father's mysterious death left her alone on the planet Kelmer. She's grown up since then. Kelmer is a harsh world, an old world: its people are ancient, its civilization long fallen and dimly dreaming under a brown dwarf sun the natives call the Ember Star. But now, long dormant forces are beginning to stir on Kelmer, forces that could destroy the planet forever...or bring it back to life. One being stands at the center of the turmoil. His origins are veiled, his destiny is unclear. Everyone wants a piece of him. Only Ginn Hollis can protect him from both sides--if she can save herself first...."
Although a relatively short novel, Gramlich's book definitely punches above its weight. Within a couple of chapters we have a strong, vivid feel for the world of Kelmer - the dry, ancient planet kept alive by a life support system of unknown, alien origin. We also get an immediate feel for Ginn Hollis, our heroine - a tough, smart young woman who's handy with a blaster pistol, deftly handles a hoverbike, and isn't afraid to punch first and ask questions later. It's easy to fall into cliche with a "tough angry chick" stereotype, but Gramlich is a deft enough storyteller to avoid that trap and keep Ginn Hollis fresh and interesting enough to keep our attention.

Overall, Under the Ember Star feels like a much older work, like a battered old gem of a pocket paperback from the 60's or 70's dug out of the stacks of a used bookstore and bought for a dollar. It reminds me of the works of Leigh Brackett or C.L. Moore; part gritty sci-fi adventure fiction, part epic space opera, with more than a touch of classic Western and maybe even a pinch of detective noir mixed in for good measure.

If you're looking for a quick, enjoyable read to get you back into the mood for more science fiction, I highly recommend this book.


Chris said...

If you like this, I can't speak highly enough of Gramlich's Talera trilogy. It's a fantastic blend of Swords & Planets AND Swords & Sorcery. Also, his collection Bitter Steel is fantastic for Swords & Sorcery buffs as well. Not to mention his horror stuff. . . .

Bottom line: The dude can write. And he's a hell of a guy to knock a few beers back with too.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jack, thanks very much for the great review. I'm glad you enjoyed "Ember Star." I linked the review over on my blog today. Glad to hear that both the world of Kelmer and the character of Ginn came through the way I hoped they would.

And Chris, thanks for you kind words as well.