Z-Boat by Suzanne Robb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I'm always up for a good sea tale so I was looking forward to reading this. What I found was a mixed bag.
The plot of this book is basically "zombies on a dystopian submarine". That's not a spoiler because you find that out in the first page. The world is declining rapidly thanks to corporate greed, government corruption, and spreading pollution. While I love a good dystopian tale, I found parts of this hard to swallow. For example, global smog is so thick you can't see the Sun in the middle of the ocean, yet somehow life manages to survive on Earth. Also, even people with relatively decent jobs can't afford clean water. The submarine crew drinks a tainted brown gunk. Even my Boy Scout training taught me two ways to get rid of that--boiling through a retort or filtering. An industrial civilization could no doubt come up with many more techniques.
More curious details emerge within the submarine itself. It's a late 20th century model, now a floating antique, yet it doesn't sound like any known sub. Hallways are five feet wide, doors are large, none of the crew has first-aid training, and the sub's davit (a small crane for lifting cargo or lifeboats) lifts the sub out of drydock, over the other vessels, and into the water. Um, no. Robb needs to research submarines if she's going to write about them.
The lack of editorial oversight is apparent in the text too, with many awkward sentences, misused words, and confusion between "lie" and "lay". The slow middle needs to be tightened up, and Robb has an irritating habit of telling right after showing. I lost track of the number of times a long paragraph would clearly show what a bad situation the characters were in, and end with some banal statement like "It didn't look good."
And yet I kept reading. Robb is a master at bringing characters to life and making you care about them. The crew is a wonderful collection of misfits suitable for the Nostromo or the Serenity and their interactions, loves, and feuds makes this book. The gorefest fight scenes are fun too if you have a high splatter tolerance. The ending is a rollercoaster ride that leaves it way open for a series (which is in fact continuing).
All in all, the most frustrating thing I found about reading this is was watching a bad book smother a good one. Robb has heaps of potential, and with a bit more care for her craft, and a much firmer editorial hand, she could produce some astounding works of fiction.
2.5 stars out of 5.
(I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
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