Saturday, February 11, 2017

REVIEW: Otters in Space (e-book) by Mary E. Lowd

Otters in Space is a self-published sci-fi novel. It's 60,130 words long.


This is set sometime in the future. Humans have long since abandoned Earth. The dogs and cats they left behind eventually attained sentience and built their own societies in and around humanity’s ruins. They have jobs, government, cars, phones - basically, their lives look a lot like ours today.

Unfortunately for cats, this is largely a dog’s world. Cats are considered second-class citizens and have to struggle to get decent-paying jobs. Kipper, the book’s main character, doesn’t really expect that things will ever get better, but she tries to support her sister Petra’s political aspirations anyway. Then Kipper and Petra learn about a possible secret cat utopia in Ecuador, which they dub “Cat Havana” (never mind that Havana isn’t in Ecuador). After Petra suddenly disappears, apparently to go see Cat Havana for herself, Kipper decides to join her.

I bought this in an effort to scratch my post-Zootopia itch. The sci-fi aspects mentioned on the product page intrigued me, and it had several positive reviews, but the one negative review I came across made me wary. Still, it was cheap, so I bought it anyway.

The world-building was intriguing, but also sloppy and filled with holes. I found it difficult to believe that every last human had chosen to leave Earth behind, or that this would even be possible (imagine how much time and money it would have taken, and how many spaceships). How did the various animal species become sentient? Which species were sentient? Early on, I assumed that only cats, dogs, and otters were sentient. Dogs and cats lived on Earth, and otters had managed to establish themselves in space. However, once Kipper finally made it to the space station, there were mentions of “immigrant squirrels” and even a chef who happened to be an octopus. Also, since sentience hadn’t changed species’ sizes (most dogs towered over cats), I found myself wondering if their lifespans were the same too.

Despite my issues with it, I enjoyed the world of this book. There were indications that cat and dog interactions could be fairly complex, I was very intrigued by the brief description of octopus society, and I wanted to know more about otter life on the space station. The otter space ship that Kipper ended up on was also pretty cool.

That said, this book could have used a better editor. Although I didn’t notice any misspellings, I did spot several misused apostrophes and commas, as well as a few incorrect phrases. A few examples:
“One of the Chihuahua's from Kipper's team came up to her and shook her paws, speaking a few indecipherable words.” (53)
“Chihuahua’s” shouldn’t have an apostrophe.
“However, the heart of the platform was the open, landing area in the center for the climbers -- the elevator cars.” (60)
There shouldn't be a comma between "open" and "landing."
“They looked at her, and they held their gaze longer than she expected.” (93)
I’m pretty sure that should be “they held her gaze.”

There were also lots of instances of stuff that should have been streamlined prior to publication. Here’s a good example:
“There were otters occupying some of the other beds, but none of them had noticed her yet. Well, she was sure they knew she was there. But none of them had noticed she was awake.” (111)
Why not just say “but none of them had noticed she was awake yet” and do away with the rest?

The story’s pacing wasn't very good, and Kipper’s shifting and easy-to-forget goals probably didn’t help. Petra was supposedly the impetuous one, and yet Kipper was the one who decided to go all the way to Ecuador with only a single note as evidence that Petra had gone there. She soon realized that Petra probably hadn’t made it to Ecuador yet but went into space anyway, even though her primary goal had been finding her sister. Once she was on the space station, her goal shifted to finding Cat Havana, even though that potentially meant she’d never see her brother and sister again.

There was too much that didn’t make sense. Although Trudith was one of my favorite characters (second only to Emily the octopus), it boggled my mind that anyone thought it was a good idea to hire a protective dog like her to kill somebody, especially considering her tendency to follow anyone’s firmly stated orders. Then there was the enormous plot hole involving the note that inspired Kipper to go to Ecuador in the first place. I suppose it might have been part of the setup for the sequel, except, if that had been the case, I’d have expected Kipper to wonder about that detail more.

All in all, this turned out to be kind of disappointing. I have a couple of the author’s other works on my Nook and am still hopeful that one of them might be better, but it’ll probably be a while before I give them a shot.

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