Sunday, 13 December 2009

eBook Review (and related rant): "Dominant Species" by Michael E. Marks

I came across this book while trying to decide whether or not to buy a Kindle. I had outlined in an earlier post that the dearth of good books and more particularly a dearth of my usual reading fodder made it of little use to me. However, once I started writing I was advised that if I wanted to write I had to read. Not just the usual, I had to expand my horizons. Where better to search for and read books of many genres without futher cluttering my rapidly disappearing room than the Kindle store? ...It's amazing what you can justify when you really really want to buy something. What can I say? ...I am weak. Some of my points in that earlier post still stand but having invested in one I will now wait patiently to see how it develops.

Which leads neatly on to the reason I started to write this post in the first place. The book itself. Most of the books in the Kindle store have been 'converted' from their original print versions, however, Michael Mark's book "Dominant Species" only exists in the digital realm. I think this is the beginning of a trend that may be the future of SciFi. The argument that SciFi as a printed genre is dying is an old hat that has been argued on the "world wide" for a while now. It was recently revived on the blog of an author I've come to admire and many big names in SciFi writing joined in a spirited debate that extended to two futher blog posts. Do check out the posts and subsequent discussions, it really is a fascinating read. In the discussion I cited this book as a future model for the dissemination and futher development of SciFi in a publishing world that must cater to popular tastes to survive.

And what an entry to that model it is! The book tells the story of a top secret elite Marine unit trapped deep underground in a mysterious spaceship and their battle for survival against a mysterious and powerful enemy.The sub-genre of this book is military scifi which, while known for action and adventure, is not generally famous for the depth of its characters. However, the characters in this book display remarkable depth without losing the pace and action that makes this genre what it is.

In addition one of the arguments made in the above discussion is that we live in a world where Science Fiction is fast becoming Science Fact. It was suggested that this removes the sense of wonder experienced by the readers of early scifi with its exploration of the possible technologies of the future. Michael Marks seems to have embraced that reality and woven into the centre of his tale some of the technologies and ideas that NASA and DARPA are working on right now and in so doing has, for me, recaptured that sense of wonder at what the future holds. The fact that the future may not be so far off only serves to highten that wonder.

He often goes into almost Clancy-esque detail about the nature of the armour and weapons of the marines but for me the details never become burdensome and only serve to heighten the depth of the picture in my mind. His combat scenes are well crafted and take you to the very heart of the action in a way that almost has you ducking when the bullets start to fly. In combination with the twists of the story, the slowly uncovered mysteries and the very real characters he has a formula that will keep you gripped right up to the last page. The only irritating part of the book are the formatting errors throughout the text. They mar what is an otherwise fantastic book.

All in all I can't recommend this book highly enough to those of you with a Kindle and a taste for Military Science Fiction and even for those of you who have never really been drawn to this genre. Tense and action packed, it really is a terrific read.


  1. Now this is interesting. I thought that article about science fiction being a dying artform had some very valid points - not only from a point of view of women reading more than men (and women not reading scifi, which is for the most part true), I think there's also some merit to the idea that younger generations have a shorter attention span and the 'dumbing down' of our media, education and society in general must also play a part. When was the last time you saw a television advertisement that didn't sound patronising, or a documentary that didn't explain the same concept six times in ten minutes, using dramatic 'we're all going to die' threats, words of no more than two syllables and leaving out all the interesting scientific information?

    Perhaps this will be the new market place for the scifi novel, let's face it, most folks who are interested in reading scifi are likely to buy a Kindle or an eReader, right Phil? ;) This could be to scifi what iTunes has been to the independent music market, suddenly there's a far less expensive way to get your book into your market, which means that it will be available to those who want it and make money for the author who might not sell it otherwise. And the marketing will be free, through fan sites, forums and Twitter.

    Good review, Phil, I can't say this style of novel is my cup of tea (no vampires or female protagonists with flame throwers) but if military tactics, fast paced action and pretty solid characters are your thing, you could do worse than check out Aussie novelist Matthew Reilly (, in particular Temple, Ice Station and the rest of the Scarecrow series. I don't read scifi, history or military novels, but I liked Reilly's enough to buy them. :)

  2. Thanks for the kind words Blu, glad you liked the review.

    Yes, the Kindle definitely has an irresistable pull to those of us who watched too much Star Trek and thought, ooh datapad, how cool would that be?!

    I think you're right about the risk free element of eBooks from a publishing perspective. use a similar concept with their 'print on demand' so beloved of The Great Wil Wheaton (to use his full name). There's none of the usual concerns of "how many units can we shift to recover our printing/advertising/promotion costs".

    The author/s sits down to write and then sells it on to either Amazon or Lulu and those who it grabs buy it. Hassle free delivery system with little or no risk. Those whose work is good will succeed and those who aren't up to it will vanish into a perfect world. I suspect that reality will present a rather different picture.

    As for media 'dumbing down'. Is it them or us? (I use 'us' in the sense of readers as a whole) Business's tend to react to (or try to predict) trends. If they see that, thought provoking, Sci Fi isn't selling and requires too much effort on the part of their potential customers then they are going to publish authors whose work appeals to the masses. Or is it that they believe we are stupid based on the vociferous minority and manufacture that reality where it didn't exist? Not sure actually.

    Thanks for the tip by the way though sadly his books are not available on the Kindle at the moment. I'm patiently awaiting the expansion of that library...

  3. I really must add to Miss Blu's tip by saying the matt reilly's novels are great, especially if you like the genre were speaking about.
    Keep the musings coming Phil...

  4. Cheers Phillip!
    First, thanks so much for the very kind words on Dominant Species. Second, accept my sincere apologies for what appears to have been some sort of coding error causing the character glitch - a revised copy has been posted and the Quality Control guy has been sacked. (oh wait, that's me...) Sincerely though, I greatly enjoyed your blog and look forward to being a follower. Best - Michael


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