Analysis, inspiration, Reading, Reviews, Revision

Book Review: Crew of Exiles

A transcendent being has been banished to human form. His exile to a depopulated Earth will drive him mad if he can’t find a way out. Getting dragged along on an adventure by the last remaining Earthlings isn’t exactly what he had in mind.

What reviewers are saying:

  • “Dark but wholesome”
  • “…quests for restoration and survival lead to an afterlife that simmers with new possibilities.”
  • “Our heroes are a sort of Dorothy-Scarecrow-Tinman-Lion crew of misfits united by a common purpose.”

Order it through your local bookstore! Also available from Amazon Or from Barnes and Noble

She glanced over her shoulder. “You don’t find it odd that of all the people in that facility, only you and I survived?”
That’s because we both have immortal genetics. But Beryl wasn’t keen on reminding her that his body was a mysterious contradiction—the best life-preserving genes, the worst life-enjoying genes.
He said, “Strange happenstance does not destiny make.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Aphorisms aren’t your strong suit.”

– Crew of Exiles by Neal Holtschulte

Crew of Exiles, written by, me! There aren’t going to be any spoilers here, but if you’re already eager to read this book, then I recommend that you do so before reading this review. I am going to criticize my own novel and I don’t want to bias your opinion.

Part one: Who’s gonna love this book?

If you love perfectly mismatched characters going on a Sci-Fi adventure together and overcoming their personal flaws along the way, then you’re gonna love Crew of Exiles. The novel mixes far out post-human societies with typical science fiction stuff; spaceships, virtual reality, and a bit of a classic semi-philosophical adventure feel, like Riverworld but better written.

I do like Riverworld, but it’s dated.

Crew of Exiles is packed with turns of phrase that will surprise and delight. Descriptions that are sweet and tangy, and characters who, for better or for worse, are true to themselves.

Part two: Who’s not going to like it?

If you want a book with a tightly woven plot, like a thriller, where the characters have a clear objective and they’re gonna doggedly pursue that objective from the start to the finish, then you might not like this book. If novels with multiple perspectives in different chapters drive you nuts, because there’s always that one character you’re a little bit less interested in…

Or if you prefer hard Science Fiction with at least a nod to believability, then you might not like Crew of Exiles

Part three: What I thought of it.

I guess there’s no guarantee that I like a book just because I wrote it and published it, but I do, I think it’s great. You may have heard the advice: “write what you want to read” and that’s what I did and it worked.

I love my characters: their voices and their flaws. I had a blast describing the settings in this world that I created. I wrote an adventure romp that I want to read.

Part four: What can authors learn from Crew of Exiles.

Characters are a strong starting point for a story. That’s where I started for this novel. Seriously, here’s a word cloud of the advanced reviews on my novel. The larger the word, means the more frequently it was used. I’m very proud of the word right in the middle.

Way back at the inception, I was watching a bunch of Cracked: After Hours videos and I got to thinking that the four lovable dorks portrayed in those videos would make great characters for a story.

Over time I modified the personality traits of the characters portrayed in those videos so that my characters are only loosely based on the archetypes, but it was an excellent starting point because someone else had done the legwork of finding these personality traits that were going to bounce off of each other in interesting ways.

That’s the first lesson: craft characters who are going to get under each other’s skin, who’re gonna have friction, who are going to annoy each other, who are going to force each other to grow. Start simple, find some archetypes and media that you like that you can base your characters off of. Archetypes are free. And do start simple. One of my characters is a shining optimist. Another is a gloomy pessimist. Simple opposites.

The second lesson is a little bit harder and it’s still one that I’m learning myself: how do you craft a coherent story when you’re discovery writing?

I wrote this novel without knowing the ending. I originally wrote it week to week, as a challenge to myself to complete something, discovering alongside my characters what was going to happen next. So what did I do after writing the first draft? I revised it, adding whole chapters, deleting whole chapters, making huge structural changes. I asked myself of each scene: Does this set up a later payoff? Does this make sense in the broader context? Does this motivate a change in the character? Does this raise the stakes? Is the mood of the scene appropriate for its location in the overarching story?

Scenes that didn’t live up got cut, reworked, or rearranged. I made this huge spreadsheet and I filled it with notes and color-coded it based on what sort of tension and whose tension was happening and which chapters and how long it lasted and when it got resolved. It was grueling and boring and difficult, but it resulted in a better book.

If you really want to do a deep dive, I actually have the original first draft up on the Internet. I’ll link it in the description. I don’t know if that’s useful to anybody, but you can check it out if you like. You can sort of do a compare and contrast. The original draft is half as long by word count than the final novel.

In conclusion, I wrote a fun book that I am proud of. I would be so honored if many of you would read this book, share it with somebody who might enjoy it. The holiday season is coming up. You can get it as a gift. You can look on my website for how to get a signed copy directly from me. If you’re in a book club there’s a also information posted on my website, link in the description, and it comes with some questions to get discussions started about the book as well.

So check out Crew of Exiles. Enjoy it. I’ll leave you with one last excerpt from the novel.

Beryl bristled. He wasn’t a child. He didn’t need her reassurances. “Eventually you’ll be wrong,” he said testily. “And it’ll cost you more than a broken arm.”
Then he shut his mouth and walked toward the black hole in the side of the dome.
Why did I say that?
His thoughts thundered darkly. Self-recriminations snapped like lightning bolts. He wondered if there was any difference between constantly acting like an ass and being one.

– Crew of Exiles by Neal Holtschulte

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