Reviewed by Evangeline Jennings
Aetna Adrift is an interesting case study in self-publishing. The first half of this novel was published last October as Aetna Rising and ended, of course, on a cliff hanger. The now complete novel resolves the open issues and sets the scene for a more expansive space saga to follow.
The scope and scale of author Erik Wecks’ galaxy building is impressive. The story somewhat less so. Mostly because of the editing, or lack thereof.
Picture one of those westerns where a remote outpost attracts a crowd of free spirits who all kick along nicely – taking care of their own – happy to remain out of sight of the government. Now picture the Government Man rolling into town unannounced at the head of a small army, determined to modernize and make his evil mark. Then send that story into space and forget to edit the living shit out of it.
That’s Aetna Adrift right there.
It’s not – to be clear – a good idea spoiled. But it is a good idea and a lot of fine planning let down by a less than splendid execution.
We are far into the future here. Distant galaxies, space empires, planet killing weapons. And yet our hero Jack still wears a light blue Oxford shirt and zips his fly after boinking an unfeasible space tart. And the Space Government Man sports a dark blue suit, a red-striped tie, and a no-doubt crisp white shirt – “the uniform of business executives for almost one thousand years”.
Meanwhile, our heroine – as much as we’re allowed one – slips into a little black dress whenever she pops out to the saloon to pick up a stranger to fuck.
I can almost accept that the LBD is indeed a timeless classic, but a thousand years of scientific advancement and we’re still stuck with the zipper? No. Freaking. Way.
I also question the implication that the setting is only one thousand years into the future. It doesn’t seem enough, especially given that the “last” Galactic war ended over three hundred years before our story starts. But that may be a carp too far given that the overall depth of Erik Wecks’ vision.
It’s not unreasonable, however, to say that plot details are occasionally lost or confused because of a lack of focus and clarity in the writing. Or to point out that the biggest flaw in Aetna Adrift is shallow characterization.
Taken as a whole, these characters come in only one dimension and, more often than not, when Wecks attempts to add depth to his stereotypes he compounds the problem. The best example, inevitably, is our zipper-happy hero, Jack Holloway.
I’m guessing, of course, but my take on Jack’s character and in particular his attitude to what I am going to call Relationship Politics is that Wecks found himself caught between wish fulfillment and a hard place.
So Jack is a player, an expert with the laydeez, but also a white knight. He can fall for the girl in the LBD and yet still bang the unfeasible space slut early and often. Erik Wecks tries to show us Jack maturing – reluctantly – into a real relationship and something approaching sensitivity but it never really works. It reads like he’s saying, ‘Look, I’m not a sexist. Some of my best friends are women!’ When he also tries to deflect Jack’s “sins” by belatedly bestowing those same attitudes on the girl in the LBD, I gave up. Jack Holloway works as an unreconstructed studly wheeler-dealer turned outlaw – say Harrison Ford with a quick release fly – and nothing more. Everything Wecks attempts to fix Jack’s perceived flaws only makes them more apparent. His editors should have told him so I didn’t have to.
Which brings us back to the beginning. Not a bad book by any means, Aetna Adrift is an interesting case study in self-publishing. There is genuine five star potential in this story and the saga to come, but the author has not and is unlikely to achieve that potential alone. Independent genre authors need support systems too, and collaborative partners they can trust. Although Erik Wecks has credited a copy editor and – his quote marks – “editors”, on this evidence they’re not up to the job. It’s a shame.