Review: Endeavour by Ralph Kern

Brian G Turner

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Have you ever read a thick trilogy of books and thought that there was a really good novel in there somewhere, only it's been drowned out with irrelevant filling and digressions just to make a series?

Well, that's what Ralph Kern's Endeavour is - a strong novel with so many ideas it could easily have been padded out into something much longer. It remains lean, concise, and compelling.

The downside is that the character development is very weak. Although Kern does make a brave attempt to develop the character of Karen, it's Harry and Tom who lead us through most of the story and there's little to differentiate them.

This is a story about space exploration, but there are no long chapters to explain the engineering, no plot arcs about the emotional insecurities of the crew - no struggles over love, hate, rivalries, missing family; or details of trivial incidents to make it seem like something is happening before the story begins. The crew just get on with their job, and the author just gets on with telling the core story - and it constantly surprises.

The main theme is about exploring space and time for intelligent life, and very much puts me in mind of a cross between Paul Anderson's Tau Zero and Arthur C Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It may not have the reputation of either, but it is visionary, and could easily sit on the shelf next to these classic science fiction novels and not look out of place.

This is a clever book, not simply asking questions about life in the universe, but also about the development of humanity - and it's ultimate, startling fate. It is also much more varied than I initially suspected, taking some very unexpected turns.

This is not a dark or dystopian book, but instead a novel full of bright ideas, and re-imaginings of classic SF technologies. At times the prose can seem a little prosaic, but the ideas behind it are full of energy.

This is written in the style of classic science fiction, with all the flaws and benefits of that, and the sum total is very positive. It is a cerebral book, written with hard SF in mind - and yet, it never threatens to overwhelm the reader with jargon or explanations.

In fact, it is the mystery element to the story that is one of the strongest, unfolding the puzzle of the Fermi Paradox of why, if there is intelligent life in space, why have we not seen it? Kern approaches - and finally answers this - in a very satisfactory manner.

And yet, though I did very much enjoy this book, I was still left wondering if perhaps it couldn't have been made just a little bit stronger - not least through the limited character development. However, it remains highly recommended.
 
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Here's my thoughts...

4/5 stars


This is an ambitious offering for a debut novel; a lot of ground is covered and the ideas are both big and interesting but it does suffer from poor editing; something all too common in debut novels. I know I can be a little bit pedantic about such things but they do keep involuntarily drawing me out of the story. Which is a particular shame when that story is, as in this case, a very good one.

And it is very good. It is essentially a first contact book and, despite how often that particular subject has been written before, Kern has managed a sufficiently different and interesting take that kept the plot feeling fresh and new. I was also impressed by how much he has managed to cover in a book of just over 300 pages (in my ebook edition); there are many authors who would easily have filled a 1000 pages covering the same material. He has achieved this by simply dropping anything not important to the story. So, for example, training for an exploration mission is not covered, instead the story just skips into the mission itself. Which is just fine since it is perfectly obvious the training has taken place but we’re just going to get on with the interesting stuff! However, despite the success of that tactic (and it does work really well), there are a number of places where the narrative still manages to drift off into unnecessary detail on irrelevant topics and that in turn creates slightly uneven pacing in what is otherwise a brisk well paced story.

World building is where Endeavour really shines out, along with a very good, plausible and varied plot. This is not a character driven story and, despite some brave but flawed attempts to give more depth to the characters, they remain for the most part remote and, to some extent, indistinguishable from each other. I didn’t find this a big problem as, for me, it was more than counterbalanced by that excellent world building which along with most of the science is built on our existing knowledge of exoplanets, star systems and current physics, making this for the most part a good solid hard SF story. Though not entirely so; a number of elements, in particular the various propulsion and transport systems, are really more in the realm of speculative rather than hard science even when built upon current scientific theories. But again, that’s okay, most SF will always have some degree of speculative science and Endeavour strikes a pretty good balance here.

In summary this is an excellent novel if a little flawed in its execution, thought that is easily forgiven in a debut novel especially one as entertaining as this. I am very much looking forward to reading the next instalment.
 
The main theme is about exploring space and time for intelligent life, and very much puts me in mind of a cross between Paul Anderson's Tau Zero and Arthur C Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It may not have the reputation of either, but it is visionary, and could easily sit on the shelf next to these classic science fiction novels and not look out of place.

I would revise this to say that I think Ralph Kern's Endeavour would sit easily alongside Poul Anderson's Tau Zero and Joe Halderman's The Forever War. I'd love to hear from anyone who's read all three to let me know if they think I'm onto something, or talking rubbish. :)
 
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Read this a while ago, so I'm going from memory.

Took me a little while to get into it. Must admit, I don't often read sci-fi, so it felt like swimming in a different pool than my usual.

I really liked the way that time played a significant role in how the story developed. Although I read the first quarter/third a bit slowly, I seem to recall (not unlike The Lies of Locke Lamora) finishing off the middle and end pretty rapidly. Progression of time, the high end technology and structure of the story were all very good. Characters could've had a little more added to them.
 
I would revise this to say that I think Ralph Kern's Endeavour would sit easily alongside Poul Anderson's Tau Ceti and Joe Halderman's The Forever War. I'd love to hear from anyone who's read all three to let me know if they think I'm onto something, or talking rubbish. :)
My personal take is that, unlike many, I wasn't much impressed with Forever War so I'd say it Endeavour was better :).

However @Brian Turner When you say Poul Anderson's Tau Ceti did you mean Tau Zero? If so then yes I do think it stands up pretty well alongside Tau Zero. Both are pretty good hard SF.
 
Well, to be compared to such company as Anderson and Halderman is flattering in the extreme. :)
 
Ordered and is now at the top of my reading pile. Will be back later to give my view of the revised edition.
 
I've read the book and am much impressed by it. I do not think that the first third went slowly, I thought the story about Roanoke was not all that believable, but I tend to think that all this talk about ancient aliens is so much hogwash. So I had a hard time buying into that part. Here is my review posted on Amazon U.S. I'm sorry to say that right now my review is the solitary one.

Endeavor is the first book of the "Sleeping God's" series. It is Space Opera written large. The scope of this novel is astounding. Travel in this story does not move faster than light and the time taken to travel is an integral part of the story. Throughout the book the Fermi paradox is considered and given a very interesting and possible answer. The characters are believable and very likeable. I especially appreciated the fact that the main characters were not caviler about life of any kind and were truly heroic in their sacrifice for each other and their strong professionalism. I expect to read the second book in this series and see where it goes.

Why 4 stars? I am very tight in handing out 5 stars. To rank 5 stars I have to see it as one of the very best books I've ever read. When I give 4 stars it means that the book is very good and most anyone will enjoy reading it.
 
Hi,

Thank you very much for your review and the kind words. It is truly appreciated, especially as I know you hold many of the authors I find inspirational in high regard.

I was a bit confused by the lack of reviews, then I spotted why... Someone wants to sell two used paperbacks for $1357.80 each and has opened a seperate product page for them, which is the one you have posted your review on. I'm very flattered they think the book is worth that :), but it does provide a distraction away from the actual product page...

I have requested the listing is removed so this kind of distraction doesn't happen again and am glad the issue has been highlighted.

Thanks again :)
 
I would rather not have an unknown ASIN merged into mine. It might cause complications later if / when I choose to revisit print.
 
Nothing to be sorry about, Parson! I'm glad it highlighted the probloem so I could do something about it (or request Amazon do!)
 

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