As much as I love indie books, they’re a minefield. You never know what you’re going to get in terms of quality. I’ve had some books that started promising, then turned into total slogs; I’ve had others that were actually pretty solid. The novel I’m reviewing today definitely falls into the latter category—in fact, it is the best self-published work I have ever read. I introduce Kevin Griffis’ book, Patrol Craft Zero Two Two, Reporting!, which is an absolute gem in the wilderness of Amazon’s sci-fi Kindle section.
I encountered the author on the subreddit r/shamelessplug, where creators of all stripes share their content. We kept up a Reddit correspondence for a little while until his account was deleted and I lost the ability to contact him further; Kevin Griffis, if you’re reading this, I finally finished your book! Sorry it took so long.
Anyway, the setting is relatively standard space opera fare, with a few interesting twists; humanity has expanded across dozens of star systems, connected by FTL routes known as “lines,” and the protagonists’ government, the Commune of Earth, is confined to the Sol System, with its military on a correspondingly defensive footing against the much larger Bernard Kingdom. Starships in this universe travel using a device known as the GEM engine, which creates a gravity well in front of the craft; ships literally fall forward. The Commune of Earth is hinted to be an excellent place to live, with education and basic living standards provided by the state. To its credit, Patrol Craft Zero Two Two, Reporting! does not spend much time at all on the political, historical, or technical background of its world, avoiding infodumps and instead spending that energy on the characters and their eponymous starship.
Our protagonist is one Edward Baker, a thoroughly mediocre officer who has failed his promotion exam multiple times in a row. He’s a people person, though, capable of forming strong relationships with the officers around him, and he gets a chance to improve his leadership skills when he is assigned to command an aging warship, Patrol Craft Zero Two Two (PC022). His first mission is to escort an early warning buoy to the outer Solar System, where it will beef up the defenses of the Commune of Earth against the menacing Bernard Kingdom. Midway through the book, however, he encounters a threat far beyond anything his tiny little craft can handle—and he must fight to save his crew.
I won’t spoil it, but I will say that this book is a fun space adventure with genuine tension at the climax. At one point I found myself wondering how Baker would escape the mess he’d found himself in; the ending, though, was quite exciting and satisfying, if a bit rushed. My biggest complaint is that the plot takes ages to get going; for at least two-thirds of the book, they’re just on a standard patrol mission, with Baker getting to know his ship and crew. This is frankly one reason why I took so long to finish it. I also don’t think the novel is really long enough, since it’s just 93 pages—not enough space to develop the setting beyond an intriguing sketch.
There are many things that Griffis does exceedingly well, however. The technical details are spot-on. Despite FTL and gravity drives I certainly got a hard SF vibe from this, and I’d be willing to bet that the author has visited Atomic Rockets at least once. In one scene Baker and an engineering officer tour PC022’s nuclear reactor, exploring deck by deck, and the descriptions are splendidly conveyed. The reader learns about everything from pebble-bed reactors to Cherenkov radiation.
In terms of mechanics, the book is more polished than many self-published books tend to be. The editor certainly did a good job. There are few typos or grammatical errors, the prose flows serviceably, and even the macro-scale aspects of writing, such as plot and characterization, hold up pretty well.
My overall verdict? This is a hard sci-fi novel worth checking out. It’s a quick, fun read, with cool technical details sprinkled throughout, and I’ll be on the lookout for a sequel. You can buy it here on Amazon.