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Monday, October 24, 2011

Hal Spacejock, Venture Untamed, and Helper12

SC Poe's Indie Ebook Sampler #3

Hal Junior: The Secret Signal

By Simon HaynesSelf-published by Bowman Press, September, 2011Poe thinks this is MG mass-market-quality sci-fi spoof

First sentence: Captain Spacejock was patrolling the galaxy's deadliest sector in his sleek fighter, the Phantom X1.

Haynes opens this slick story with a limerick, a complete scale model of the universe (very small scale), and several fresh riffs on the old "fortunately-unfortunately" gag that Poe first heard and found hysterical at the age of 8. (And still does, evidently.)

Haynes swiftly introduces his characters and their space-station world, and gets Hal into trouble almost immediately.
The sample doesn't quite set up a single over-arching challenge for Hal, or even make it clear there'll be one, but there was plenty to keep Poe reading. Neat illustrations are included.

Alas! There's only one volume of
Junior out now. Too bad, because kids will want to tear through more stories right away. (Fortunately, the e-format can keep the "pilot" in circulation indefinitely.)

Hal seems to be the kid version of Hal Spacejock, the hilariously hapless MC of Haynes' traditionally-pubbed sci fi series. Kids may be eager to move across the Intertubes to the
adult series, but signals are mixed as to whether Hal Spacejock is suitable for readers under 17. (See its sample review, below.)

Rated Q for Queued to read later.

Hal Spacejock
By Simon Haynes
Originally published by Fremantle Press, dist. Penguin

Reissued by author, August, 2011
Poe thinks this is sci fi parody.

First sentence(s): Hal Spacejock was hunched over the Black Gull's flight console, studying a small chessboard balanced amongst the toggle switches, warning lights and status displays. Recently he'd read an article promoting the ancient game, claiming it would sharpen his mind, improve his memory and increase his attraction to the opposite sex.
Poe sampled this series because it's prominent in web searches alongside Haynes' MG ebook with similar title, and because online reviewers are already buying copies for their kids. Is that a good idea?

Hal pilots a decrepit freighter rocket. Bill collectors with murderous robot enforcers are beating on his door. Hal's situation is desperate enough to send him on what he thinks will be a trip hauling stolen goods. We know it will prove much more perilous. Suitably, the sample ends with Hal facing a crisis that's simultaneously dire and ridiculous.

Unlike Hal's ship (and brain), the plot's smartly constructed. There's just about one gag per paragraph, and the paragraphs are short. An online review compared the tone of this
series to Galaxy Quest. Poe concurs.

In the single editing glitch Poe noticed, a batch of sentences appears out of place. The snarl is easily sorted. (It's also a tad tricky to figure out where the teasers end and the book proper begins, which is page 5 in the Smashwords sample. )

Back to the reason Poe sampled. Is this series suitable for MG readers? The story and humor feel right on target. But Poe did find one profanity in the sample. And the Smashwords rating suggests readers 17 and up, without specifying why. So the sample's not enough to condemn or okay the whole. But parents will have fun reading further, even if they ultimately decide not to share.

Rated I for If you love spoof, satire, and parody, try this series. Even if you think you don't like sci fi.

Venture Untamed
By R. H. Russell
Self-published by Morning Gate Press, September 2011
Poe thinks this is YA combat/adventure fantasy-historical, with boy appeal

First sentence(s): Venture knew enough about death. Enough to recognize the distinctive coldness, the terrifying stillness.

That opening's a grabber. After that, it might take a bit of patience to untangle the cha
racters and grasp the complicated set-up. Long sentences and ambiguous pronouns don't make it easier.
Then, on page 22, we reach the fight training school promised in the blurb. Suddenly all is clear and every step logical. The pace picks up. We get lost in the story. If only the opening pages read like this!

The series offers a premise that readers never tire of: the "untamed" nobody who literally fights his way up society's ladder. Vent is potentially heroic, yet engagingly flawed. His native smarts and bent for combat feel earthy and real; he earns his wins with sweat, not magic. The castle-and-dungeon world also feels more like alternate-history than fantasy, the way Jackaroo does, or The Kestrel. An almost Victorian motif, of true-hearted childhood sweethearts, promises a depth that many genre adventures lack.

Poe hopes the slow opening won't frustrate some of the readers who'd most like it—impatient and reluctant kids who could be hooked by a good action/sports story. Poe believes this series is worth engaging the help of someone as skilled with editing as Russell is at explaining arm locks.

Rated I for If you like action/sports stories with depth and heart, this series has lots of potential.


By Jack Blaine
Published by Jack Blaine Books, June 2011
Poe thinks this is YA dystopian fantasy/romance

First sentence: I was originally tracked as a Breeder.

The online sam
ple displays white type against a black background. Poe's eyeballs throbbed by the end of the first paragraph. Fortunately, a more readable version can be sampled on all the varieties of Magick E-reader.
That jumpy typeface was the only thing Poe could find to complain about. Blaine deftly establishes an engaging main character and an interesting dystopia. This world might remind you of The Handmaid's Tale, Never Let Me Go, The Giver, and Brave New World. Those are all fine company, and Poe anticipates another absorbing read here.

The sample ends on a suitable forward, although some awkward repetitions of the phrase that "they took the baby" made Poe wonder whether something was lost in the otherwise competent line-editing. Poe plans to find out, having rated this book

S for Snapped Up.

Poe's Rating System:

  • S for snapped up (Poe has already purchased the full)
  • Q for queued (the book is on Poe's to-be-read-someday list)
  • U for underwhelming (Poe will always explain the reason)
  • I for If/then (not Poe's cuppa, but perhaps it's yours)
  • R for rejected (Poe will always explain the reason)
  • E for editorially challenged (Poe will not mince words)

Caveat Emptor Internexi: Poe's reviews are intended to provide a springboard for further browsing. Genre and age classifications are Poe's guesses based on short samples, and may or may not accord with the classifications suggested by authors, publishers, or anybody else. The buyer is always responsible for deciding whether the book as a whole is appropriate for the intended reader's age, interests, and reading level.

Poe's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of other members of this blog.

If you'd like SC Poe to sample your ebook on this blog, please follow submission guidelines.


  1. Thanks for mentioning the Hal books. I just have a comment about the age 17+ thing for Hal Spacejock: Smashwords asks the question 'does this book contain adult material', and because of the occasional swearword I clicked Yes. There was no mention of what age rating this might indicate for the books. In Australia, they're usually listed as suitable for ages 14 or 15+

    I am curious about the out-of-place sentences, since this is an ebook release of a trade-published novel and I'm sure the original is correct. I'll download the sample and check it out.

    Ps I'm writing Hal Junior 2 and Hal Spacejock 5 as you read this ...

  2. Dear Simon Haynes,

    Thanks for helping clarify.

    There are several ways to define "adult material," and Poe (who only samples, and hasn't read the whole) prefers to err on the side of caution.

    Glad to hear we'll hear more about Hal Junior soon!