BRIEF SUMMARY: Dragan Shao had been an exemplary soldier, defending his nation’s resources by guarding the borders and dealing with the hunger-driven people who see the alien haan not as our saviors, but as parasites that need to be destroyed. Shao has his reasons for turning in his resignation and returning to civilian life, and he will find himself examining those reasons as his former skill set brings him into confrontation with the reality of what humans will do in order to survive.
PROS: Tightly wound prose; novella does everything it should to hook readers into the world fleshed out in Decker’s novels; inventive look at how an advanced alien race might interact with humanity; just the right level of gripping action with nods given to character development.
CONS: For some, the quantity of story present may not justify the $2.99 ebook price; revelations regarding the alien presence are few in number.
BOTTOM LINE: This series by author James K. Decker promises much with its imaginative future technology, look at the coexistence of an alien race with humanity, and acknowledgment of the economic and environmental issues our world is sure to face in the decades/centuries to come, coupled with a solid, action-packed story. Decker gets things right straight out of the gate with this novella which introduces readers to a few pivotal characters and lays a bit of groundwork for the world-building, all while providing an exciting story. If the goal of “Ember” is to get you to want more, it succeeds brilliantly.
In an alternate/future Earth, soldier Dragan Shao has just requested discharge from active service and will soon be returning to the city of Hangfei, which appears to be a part of what would in our time be considered China. The future has brought many of humanity’s long-predicted worse fears to fruition: overpopulation, disease, decreasing resources and the starvation and devastation that follow in the wake of mounting global problems. Enter the haan, a race of aliens who crash-landed here years ago, and in their stranded state began to assist humanity with technological advancements that have helped pull humankind back from the path of extinction. At a price, of course.
While many understand that compromise with the haan is vital to the survival of the human race, others are not convinced, especially when they lie starving while a certain amount of food is given to help the haan survive. What you are left with is a factional society that requires the presence of armed forces to maintain order, sometimes at a high cost.
In this novella, author James K. Decker gives readers a glimpse of that cost through the eyes of Dragan Shao. The choices Shao makes in his post-military life are informed by all that has come before, and readers are given a fair amount of character insight/development that is often assumed to be missing from the medium of short fiction. Decker also gives readers tantalizing views of the haan race while leaving a great deal unsaid and unexplained, which is a great idea as a recruitment tool to get readers to buy novel-length fiction.
Dragan Shao’s life is proving to be anything but dull after stepping down to civilian life. “Ember” is suspenseful and full of tense action and I suspect that while Dragan is the protagonist of this tale, readers are also being introduced to an important character who will take center stage in the novels.
In “Ember”, James K. Decker executes the idea of a prequel novella to perfection. The novella gives readers a taste, a very enticing taste to be sure, into the greater world he has yet to unveil and he demonstrates a great respect for his audience by ensuring that this tale is a satisfying chapter into what will be a much broader story arc. There is a definite beginning, middle and end here and readers are not cheated out of a good, solid story.
James K. Decker has released novels in the Revivors series under the name James Knapp. The Burn Zone is his debut novel released under the James K. Decker name.
Artist Dave Seeley is responsible for the cover, which is what initially caught my eye while perusing Amazon just prior to the release of The Burn Zone. It made me think of Blade Runner, which meant I was immediately hooked. This illustration is actually a part of the painting Seeley did for The Burn Zone, which can be seen in its entirety here.