King Without an Empire

Author: Paul Collins
Publish America
RRP: 12.50, US $19.95
ISBN-13: 978 1 4137 4716 4
ISBN-10: 1 4137 4716 7
Available 18 March 2005

Bassett is a financial wizard, who after the untimely death of his girlfriend feels the need to seek out meaning in his life. To that end he uses his financial clout to build a ship and stock it with the best crew on a trip to Alpha Centauri, a trip that will blow his mind and change his future forever...

The book has a number of problems the first of which is its frequent references to contemporary culture, I can't think of anything, which will age a book faster than references to The Sopranos, Gordon Gekko and Larry King Live. Not only that but it will also leave many non-American under twenty-fives wondering what the author is talking about.

The second problem is, I hope, just a problem with the typesetting. Some of the sentences seem to make no sense at all. For instance, when discussing Germany's high technology military projects at the end of World War Two, the author writes:

Investigators found evidence of advance use of bomb and bomb-making apparatuses. The American and British officials came to the conclusion that Germany lacked mountains troops.

Is it me, or is it just... well... rubbish? Did Germany lack mountain (which it doesn't) or did it lack troops (which it also didn't) or maybe it just lacked troops the size of mountains? Sad to say that this isn't the only instance which crops up in the book. Whoever proof read this manuscript should be shot for placing the author in such a poor light.

The main protagonist, considering he is a media mogul, is an incredibly ignorant and unlikeable man. Bassett was born in 1960, the same year as myself and when we were about nine the Americans put a man on the moon. Every kid on the planet had a toy rocket and was obsessed by everybody who was involved in the project. So for my contemporary to ask who Werner Von Braun, the father of the Saturn rocket, was just beggars belief. If within the confines of the story he was attempting to be ironic it's not made at all clear. Add to that the fact that the man has no idea of what or who Alpha Centauri is; you've got to wonder how he even made it out of junior school. Although, Paul Collins goes on to explain what it is, it's still a jarring point - even if Bassett had never watched a science fiction program in his life Collins' target audience would have.

One has to ask if this book was edited at all. The first part of the book spends far too much time giving unnecessary background information on minor characters to the point that when Bassett meets them there is little or no time for their actual interaction. This makes Act One read like a long and not very interesting list. Collins skips over the whole of the building of the spacecraft, a problem that also manifests itself in Act Two - where structures seem to appear overnight with little effort or drama.

The book is a mass of logical problems as well. Bassett is told by an alien/goddess that he should meet her daughter, that's fine, except when he does meet her he apparently knows her name and what she looks like. Are gods wearing name badges now?

This highlights one of the major problems in the book; things which should be explained never are, while minor matters get pages of unnecessary exposition. This has a major impact on characterisation (which is limited); punctuation (which is erratic); and dramatic impact (which is variable).

Collins fails to use the characters voices to individualise them. Each voice seems the same - the voice of the author - which makes dialogue both uninteresting and at times confusing. His use of language is also odd at times. There can't be many people who partake of a repast, rather than sit down for breakfast. Now I'm as much a lover of the English language as the next man but these instances, and there are very many, drop the reader out of the narrative, interrupting the natural flow of the story.

On the plus side the book is full of some very good ideas, perhaps too many. Collins would have been better to have cut the ideas by two-thirds and concentrate on characterisation and drama. Mostly, ideas are never given the room for growth and exploration that they deserve, which is a real shame.

Hopefully, when Collins comes to write his next book, he will have better luck with his editor, proof reader and typesetter.

Charles Packer

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