REVIEW: Spin the Sky: An Orbital Odyssey by Katy Stauber

REVIEW SUMMARY: A somewhat entertaining, but incoherent novel.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Fifteen years after the Spacer War, Cesar Vaquero returns to his home station of Ithaca after numerous adventures in a SF retelling of The Odyssey. It’s returning home that’s the greatest challenge.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: An imaginative take on Homer’s epic, with a vivid world replacing the Mediterranean.
CONS: Poor writing and structure completely undermines the story in this novel, coupled with pacing that spikes the action far too soon.

Most of our stories use very old building blocks, and it’s not uncommon to see newer stories incorporating them: just look at the popularity of the Jane Austen mash-ups or John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation to see workable concepts. On the face of it, Spin The Sky looks like it might have a good take on Homer’s ancient story, The Odyssey, updating the story with futuristic warfare and a man trying to return home.

Author Katy Stauber takes the story of the Odyssey and launches it into space: Cesar Vaquero is a hero following a war between the orbiting spacers and the governments of Earth, when he crashes a massive, radioactive spacecraft into Mexico, ending the war. Like Ulysses, he takes his time getting home, in scenes retold over the course of the book.  He moves from station to station before ending up home, where he finds his wife managing their ranch, with a particularly valuable commodity: the only herd of cattle in space.

Unfortunately, all of the potential surrounding this book is lost amidst the execution. Poor writing is present throughout, as the book jumps incoherently from first person to present tense, third person, and from character to character. Generally, the story is split between Cesar and his wife, Penelope, but there are points when the story jumps to another character to explain something. Many of Cesar’s scenes are flashbacks, recounted to his son as a story. Further info dumps simply explain to the reader what’s going on, coming across as sloppy and inelegant.  At other points, the wording feels off, as though the author intended one word, but wrote down something else.

What really made me shake my head in disbelief was the following: the key motivations of the story’s antagonists was to steal Penelope’s herd of cows to turn them into a specialized lubricant to power a space laser on the moon that would be able to threaten cities on Earth.

The ridiculousness of this central premise extends to the rest of the novel. As the characters move from orbital to orbital, I found myself questioning Cesar’s motivations for not returning home far sooner than the 15 years it takes.  And at the same time, never really get *why* he doesn’t return home straight away.  Then, upon his return home, I’m puzzled that in a future where humanity is in space stations, Penelope is unable to recognize or even identify her husband when he arrives on her doorstep. Furthermore, I’m never convinced that the charade is ever very convincing, and it does a disservice to the characters who are built up to be tough, independent and savvy. Frequently, the actions of the characters aren’t well thought out, and serve to fill the gaps between major events in the story, rather than driving the story forward. As a result, the book feels very forced at points.

At the end of Spin The Sky, I was simply glad to have been done with it. I can’t imagine how this book was published with the writing feeling as amateurish as it was. It feels like there was a great story somewhere in here, and it has all the right ingredients, but somehow, it seems as though the pacing and the writing wasn’t put through the wringer that the editing process should have put it through. At the end of the day, the book provided a bit of entertainment, and some interesting imagery to go along with it.

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