Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: Discount Miracles by Brand Gamblin

Discount Miracles by Brand Gamblin


Jason Faught’s tiny crew, consisting of him, his engineer, his navigator, and a stowaway con-man wanted for more crimes than Jason cares to list, have crashed on a planet that’s both off the radar and centuries behind them technologically. With no way to communicate a distress signal, they’re effectively trapped. The people of this planet are more inclined to think of the crew as witches than as anything else, so how is Jason supposed to keep his crew alive while they try to find a way home? That’s easy. Sell their technological prowess and services as “magic” and perform miracles upon request. There are some who aren’t afraid to pay for the service of witches, after all. But when they’re hired to make a show of a certain ruler ascending to godhood, there’s a second request from the buyer. Get the ruler out of the way. Do miracles include kidnapping royalty? And what do they do with the prince once they’ve got him?

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

The crew of the space salvage ship JNE-0518 (the Jenny) have crashed on a planet that has lost its link to civilization. Surrounded by kingdoms stuck in the dark ages, the crew decides to hire themselves out as wizards, available to make any prophecy come true. But the latest job goes bad when they find themselves transporting a deified prince. Can the team get away from two different nations before they are caught and burned as royal kidnappers and witches? Even if they can escape the two armies, can they escape the iron grip of prophecy itself?


Think about time travel for a second. Think how people from even a century or two ago would look at a computer, at an iPod, the internet, or any of a hundred other techno-gadget things we think of as commonplace today. They might think it’s magic, right? Now imagine if people from two centuries in the future came to visit us with their everyday tools that to us, look like something straight out of a sci-fi novel or movie. And they have a hundred more gadgets we’ve never conceived of and have no idea how they work. Would we not just deem it magic, since we don’t understand it? I’ve heard it said that magic is just science we don’t understand yet, and that science is just magic without the lies. It’s all about perspective. How quick are people to deem things magical just because we don’t quite get how they work? That’s the underling premise of this whole book. Gamblin has thrust technologically-savvy spacegoers into a world that likely once had science. There’s postulation that this planet was populated by a colony ship that crashed. It’s just been so long since the crash that generations have come and gone and forgotten how they got there. So now, LED lights, sound systems, jetpacks, and the other tools Captain Faught’s crew take for granted are centuries ahead of the civilizational development around them. What’s science to them is magic to the people around. Kind of makes you think.


One thing I love about Gamblin’s writing is how simplistic it is without being over-simplified or condescending. This is the first of his books I’ve actually read. I’ve listened to another of his, and the same can be said about The Hidden Institute. The science-y elements are well-described; you don’t have to know the exact way the technology works to understand how the crew use it. The differences in the cultures on the planet are diverse but with those obvious ties and deep similarities you would see in people who, generations ago, were all one people. So they split and built their own cultures, traditions, and even religions and prophecies. They’re still, deep down, descendants of the same original group, and it shows in little ways. There is some great detail and some intriguing plot points scattered in this book. Even the people are real, even if some of them did come across as one- or two-dimensional. All in all, it’s still a great concept, and Gamblin pulls it off pretty well.

My Thoughts

I feel like the pacing of this book was a little off. Some of the same issues got hashed and rehashed at length, the same arguments between the crew that got to be a little draggy as time went on. Where you generally want to have a couple smaller peaks building up to a great climax at the end, I feel like the big climax was much earlier, before the halfway point of the book. That weakened the great bit that was supposed to be the final peak, the great climax at the end. And I think the final skirmish really ended too soon. There wasn’t a real feel of danger or threat, because so much happened so quickly and got resolved so fast. I don’t really feel like there was any threat, even when the crew split up to face down the leaders of a couple separate armies. It ended up too neat, and that bothered me. The epilogue, on the other hand, I did like, mostly because it added a new dimension to the planet and its goings-on, as well as to the prophecies the crew was working to make come true (or to prevent). But I admit I was a little disappointed with the second half of the book.

Would I Recommend This Book? Yeah, for the most part. It’s still a pretty good read, just on the principle of it, the idea behind the book. It’s pulled off kind of weakly, though. I give it a technologically advanced 3 out of 5 stars.

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