A response to Amazon reviewer Tghu Verd

Perhaps I shouldn’t spend the time, but Tghu Verd (?) says some things in his review I feel compelled to answer.

First the issue with the prologue:

but I felt a bit cheated because by the time you reach the scene the Prologue describes you have already figured out that it’s coming…and with lots of pages left you know the tension being established will be resolved positively. So no cliff hanger then.

He may be right about this, though I do wish he had put in a spoiler alert for this and what follows. The novel starts slowly, as many have commented, and I wanted to let the reader know that there would be some excitement. However, at this point (spoiler alert) Tommy knows little or nothing about the Kadiil. He may win, he may lose. The climax is in the future. As Mr. Verd says, lots of pages left.

What was worse were the Lords. I am still not sure if these alien slavers were just straw men (or straw aliens if you like) for Tommy’s foil, or meant to be fleshed out characters. I suspect the latter, but once again we have an alien race that are just Humans in Disguise. Perhaps that’s the Universal Truth – that aliens will be just like us – but the Lords are just so passive it’s hard to imagine them having the collective gumption to be where they were. Of course, that passivity allows Tommy to do his business, and that leads me back to my straw man theory. 

First the “humans in disguise” comment. My first defense is, even if this is true, most, perhaps all, science fiction authors who have alien characters could face the same accusation. Actually, many authors postulate something even more preposterous (in my opinion) – no aliens at all. An empty universe for the taking. It does make the writing easier. However, I would like to answer this directly with the thought process I went through (especially since the Nesu continue to figure prominently in the sequel.)

  1. Earth type planet. Earth type evolution. Given that an intelligent creature appears in the first place (remember it took millions of years for humans to appear on earth) that creature will hunt, fish, and gather in order to survive. A significant argument among anthropologists is that much of our intelligence comes from increasingly complex social competition and interaction. In other words, we lifted ourselves up by our own bootstraps: we became more intelligent because it required more intelligence, as time passed, to survive in human society. The same would arguably to true of an intelligent species on an Earth type planet.
  2. We have specific examples of parallel evolution here on Earth, we don’t have to go to another planet. The “Tasmanian wolf” of Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea looks like a wolf, hunts like a wolf, and inhabited the same niche in its habitat as the wolf, but it was a marsupial, like a kangaroo. It is certainly not far-fetched that the same could happen on an Earth type planet.
  3. Even with that, they are not human. They are amphibian. They do have two sexes, as we do, but the females are not only dominant, the males are physically smaller, and it has yet to be established if the males are even intelligent (I am still thinking about that.) I wanted them to be different, but how different could they be: they have babies which they raise from birth, so family is important. Their technology is not much different from ours because physics, mathematics, and engineering would probably follow similar paths: the speed of light is what it is, the strength of steel and concrete is what it is, and the concepts of algebra and calculus seem universal, at least in our universe. And I did want Tommy and the Nesu to have problems in common.
  4. Anyway, I challenge Mr. Verd to come up with aliens as significantly alien as he would like them to be. Jerry Pournelle’s aliens in “Starswarm” are truly alien, in that they appear to be some form of naturally evolved computer. But I already had a lot of computer stuff in the story, so that wouldn’t have worked. Anyway, I did what I did, and I hope most of you liked it.

Second the “passivity” comment. Yes, they are somewhat passive, but (Spoiler alert) I feel like I wrote a lot of words explaining why that was the case. Two thousand years ago, your planet was destroyed. The only time your people tried to settle on another planet, it was destroyed. One at a time, the ships your people built are disappearing. Your people are preying on each other to survive. You’ve been cooped up in a spaceship for thousands of years with no hope of escape because of a relentless enemy that actually doesn’t seem to care if your people live or die, just as long as they don’t do anything outside of certain set boundaries. You have the stars, but at the same time you are in a gigantic cage with no hope of escape. (Again, spoiler alert) After banging your head against that for thousands of years, wouldn’t you be passive, or maybe even suicidal?

I was more concerned with Tommy’s amazing moral restraint around female slaves. Especially ones he fancies. We’re talking a teenage boy with apparently normal hormones here, but luckily his mother installed a strong ethical centre for “how to treat women” and Tommy behaves with wisdom beyond his years. The wisdom of a much older Gillaspy perhaps? I applaud the position and appreciated the insight into Tommy’s thinking/feeling on the matter but having been a teenage boy a while back I do wonder.

The key here is that you grew up in the presence of other sexual teenaged boys and girls. Tommy reached maturity in the presence of human girls that he didn’t find sexually attractive and among humans in general that found him repulsive. I could have written some words about unfocused sexual angst, but it seemed clear enough. All that changed, of course, when the situation changed. But, by that time he didn’t know how to act. He had no role models in how to act.

I do appreciate that Mr. Verd took the time to think about my novel and write a review, but it didn’t change my mind about what I chose to do.


  1. Roksas says:

    Seeing as how the human race has not met an alien one yet, I would like to know how he expected a “truly” alien race to be expressed. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed your book and I’m looking forward to the next one. Keep up the good work, don’t let complainers get you down.

  2. Tghu Verd says:

    LOL – a review of my review. Love it!

    But no need to be defensive James, as I agree with you – most sci-fi authors have written their aliens as “humans in disguise”, so you are in good (and esteemed company). But that does not stop me yearning for aliens who stand outside of our concepts, who are truly alien in form and function, and who are not merely proxies for ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’ in the plot.

    Certainly, I noted that the Kadiil might fit this bill, depending on how you play them/it/?? in the sequel.

    As for the comment above by Roksas, my Amazon.com entry was a critique, not a complaint. I enjoyed your novel, as I said, and will buy and read the sequel if you write it. (So no performance anxiety allowed, get back to that word processor!)

    Regards, Tghu

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