Yes, another post of self-flagellation (er, adulation…maybe congratulation?). I just received a really well-written review for Gabriel’s Journey, and the author of the review (Justin Gifford, copy editor at HorribleNight.com) gave me permission to repost here. I appreciate the in-depth attention he gave each story, as well as (maybe even more so) the critiques. I’m always looking to learn…
Oh, and the bold text is my emphasis. I like emphasis. It helps the skimmers of the world figure out what I’m trying to…emphasize.
Steve Umstead’s Evan Gabriel Triology (Gabriel’s Redemption, Gabriel’s Return and Gabriel’s Revenge) is a well-put-together series of military science fiction (with hints of hard sci-fi thrown in here and there) whose components stand up well on their own but are probably best consumed as the 3-book package.
The series starts off with a bang as we find the disgraced former Commander Gabriel of the North American Federation living a less-than-ideal life in the Caribbean on an Earth a couple of centuries in the future where interstellar travel is somewhat common and man has begun to colonize the stars. Dragged back in to work for the commander who ruined his career, Gabriel and his team take off on a three-book journey that sends him to the far ends of mankind’s reach and back home again.
The dialog in the book is well developed. It’s neither overly-wordy nor too terse and you do get some character development just from speech patterns. There is an appropriate amount of comic relief, without which the books would have had a much darker tone, particularly the third book, Gabriel’s Revenge. The pace of the books is fast enough that there’s not an overwhelming amount of turnover among Gabriel’s team, but reading the books in one clump like I did made all but the two or three most important supporting characters seem somewhat interchangeable; although new characters are introduced (and I dislike when an author takes too much time rehashing the previous book/s) there were several points that would have had much more emotional resonance had the characters involved been someone who resonated with me as a result of their dialog and interaction with other characters.
The settings and travel between them (a world thrown into a global ice-age by a meteorite, a jungle covered world, Mars, and an Earth that seems familiar but scarred as a backdrop) are very well described, although the explanation for the ice world struck me as much more acceptable than an entirely jungle-covered world – when the audience is inclined towards science and maybe astronomy, a world with one climate and biome seems a little slapdash. That said: the thought process that went into inventing the biome was detailed, painted a pretty good picture in my head and kind of made me want to go on a visit, so don’t read that criticism as overly harsh.
As the Gabriel Trilogy could be classified as “military sci fi,” there’s plenty of action, but it avoids the trope of many other action books that substitute explosions and exclamation points for meaningful plot development. The action in these books serves a purpose. It’s still exciting to read and the presence of neural interconnectivity between the squadmembers adds an interesting dynamic, particularly when it comes to mission planning & modification on the fly. Even the ship-to-ship combat (and other space-related ‘stuff’) is well put together; some thought went into physics, combat difference and ship design. The only critique I have regarding the otherwise excellently done ‘guns and stuff’ is that on several occasions, a projectile weapon is described as firing a projectile at an insanely high speed with no recoil. Much has been done to mitigate recoil throughout mankind’s experimentation with long-range weapons, but nothing, not even magnetic acceleration, is going to eliminate it entirely. In a less carefully-thought-out science fiction novel, I would have rolled my eyes and moved on, but when obvious care has been taken in a variety of other high-detail opportunities to the book’s benefit, it struck me as a departure from tech that “made sense” and swung the pendulum towards “tech as magic.”
Minor critiques aside, the Gabriel Trilogy was darn entertaining and I ripped through the whole thing over a 3 day period because I enjoyed it so much. In addition to being a ‘fun’ read, it takes some time explaining practical approaches to some of sci-fi’s harder questions (is there FTL travel? What about gravity? Laser guns? …)and the times it doesn’t don’t detract from the novels as a whole. One final note: I read a lot of titles on my Kindle/Tablet. I’m also a copy-editor. The proliferation of self-publishing has been a boon to me as a reader, but very few things will pull me out of my immersion in a book I’m enjoying faster than poorly edited / transferred to Kindle books. Gabriel’s Journey, Return & Revenge, thankfully, were almost, if not entirely bereft of these unfortunately common errors, so if you’re as bothered by poor editing as I am, you’re safe with Mr. Umstead’s books.
I’d give a recommendation for sci-fi / adventure / military genre fans to check out this trilogy without hesitation.
Much appreciated, Justin.