F.T.L. (The Exploration Chronicles: Book Three)

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Kevin D. Randle

Published: 2004

Reviewed: 2006-01-25

Publisher: Ace

They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and in the case
of Kevin Randle, this is unfortunately true. Mr. Randle actually
writes what could be a very good yarn, telling the story of humanity's
panicked development of faster than light travel in response to the
discovery of alien life. It's got all the stuff you'd want out of a
semi-hard S.F. novel: intrigue, sex, occasional engineering details,
and a very clear boundary between the physics the reader should expect
to hold and the places where the author intends to bend the rules.

Unfortunately, this is badly tripped up by the intersection of two
things: Mr. Randle's failure to remember that he should be showing and
not telling, and a scientific lapse that defies any reader's ability
to suspend disbelief. Oh, it makes a cute ending and all, and he
might have even been able to get away with it if he wasn't insistent
in trying to rub his cleverness in the reader's face throughout the

I'd give a spoiler warning, but while you're reading the book,
Mr. Randle spoils it repeatedly himself, so I won't bother. I have
never in my life read such ham-handed foreshadowing, even in webcomics
where characters tell each other "Damn you, you tricked me into
foreshadowing!" Over and over and over, he says things like "He didn't
know that the monitoring would produce results in a matter of hours"
and "No one even thought about the time dilation clock, which
unbeknownst to them was highly inaccurate... the math of FTL had
tripped them up". After a while, you feel like Mr. Randle is dancing
back and forth in front of you holding up his plot notes and saying
"Nyah-nyah! I know how the story ends and you don't!"

The time dilation is the other problem. While the "FTL makes time
dilation ridiculously long!" thing is plausible since FTL is
impossible anyway, even my passing familiarity with relativity is
offended by how he discusses it. The real problem, though, is that
the plot hinges on the giant military project being filled with FTL
scientists that don't bother either working out the math on time dilation
or tracking a couple clocks on the ship. On the one hand, the heroes
fly to Alpha Centauri and back and end up 150 years in the future. On
the other hand, the test flight to Pluto and back doesn't raise even a
single warning flag.

It's the sort of thing I don't mind at all when it's a macguffin in the
first couple chapters of a book in order to set up the plot, like in
Cherryh's "Foreigner". When the author not only wants me to watch the
characters screwing up in implausible detail, but stretches it over
most of the book and keeps rubbing my nose in it with clumsy
foreshadowing, it's just too much for my suspension of disbelief.

There's also the main characters staggering through their romance like
clumsy mannequins ("... if we're not famous for making the first
sustained faster-than-light journey, we'll be famous for the first
striptease in space.") but that didn't hurt half so much.

The inside cover of the book lists only his other two in the series
("Signals" and "Starship"), so I was about to excuse Mr. Randle for
being a new author. When I looked at his other books on the shelf,
however, I saw that he's actually got more than a dozen titles ranging
back more than a decade. More likely, his editor simply doesn't care,
since much of his publication has been stock series of one type or

My final judgment? It's a decent light read, if you can keep from
smacking yourself in the head with a hammer every time he foreshadows.
I'd happily pick it out of a pile of discarded books, but I wouldn't
bother spending money on Mr. Randle until he gets a better editor.