By Jeremy Andrew Whitehead
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
To review Jeremy Andrew Whitehead's Ames is an inherently frustrating experience, and a great example of why it can be so difficult to give a fair shake to self-published literature. Because to be sure, there's a great science-fiction novel buried within this manuscript, based on a really thought-provoking premise that brings to mind Charles Stross' cult favorite Saturn's Children -- namely, what would happen if a ship full of human colonists in suspended animation were sent to a planet to sleep underground for a thousand years, while a team of artificially intelligent robots spent a millennium terraforming that planet into a habitable state, just for those robots to realize a couple hundred years in that they don't actually need the humans at all, and that they could start their own civilization just fine?
That's a great concept, and gives Whitehead room to explore all kinds of interesting world-building questions related to a society that was built specifically for robots that are intentionally modeling themselves after humans; a world with no bathrooms but with recharging stations built into every vehicle and piece of furniture, a world where a small cabal of "first gen" AIs deliberately create millions of less intelligent minions that they control like Orwellian fascist nation-states. And what would happen in such a world if one of those long-dormant underground humans was finally woken up to reassert control? That's another fascinating question, one that fuels the action-adventure plot seen here; so what a shame that this book still needs so much basic work when it comes to proofreading and editing in order to be taken seriously as a piece of literature. And that's the problem with self-published novels in a nutshell; that in an age where it's so incredibly easy to convert a Microsoft Word document into a finished and published paper book for sale to the public at Amazon, it's becoming harder than ever for such authors to secure professional editing services to make those books worth reading in the first place.
Ames is essentially a 500-page book with only about 250 pages of actual interesting content, written by an aerospace engineer who mistakes the detailed procedural lists that come with product analysis for a compelling narrative; and so while that generates some really heady ideas for us to ponder, those ideas are couched within pages upon pages of mind-numbing filler, adding up to a wash whose bad parts equally cancel out the good ones. (Just as an example, the act 1 setup of the story takes Whitehead an entire 125 pages to get across, when it should've been over and done with by page 30 or so.) And this is not to mention the literal hundreds of basic grammatical errors found within the manuscript, things that spell-checks will never catch like Whitehead's habit of putting his dialogue's punctuation outside of his quotation marks instead of inside, which as a heavy reader drove me crazier and crazier with each successive page.
This could've been easily solved if he had had an extra thousand bucks to hire an actual professional editor to give this a once-over; and therein lies the problem, in that actually publishing the book through a place like CreateSpace only costs a tiny fraction of that, leading most self-published authors to skip this expensive and time-consuming but such critical step. I'm still giving Ames a decent score, because just the concepts alone being bandied about is worth giving it a look, especially for extra hardcore SF fans who aren't as bothered by basic grammatical mistakes; but for general-interest readers who are, this is going to be a frustrating read, something one hopes that Whitehead will fix before releasing part 2 of this planned trilogy.
Out of 10: 7.4, or 8.4 for hardcore science-fiction fans