CassaStar and CassaFire, have been compared to the militaristic sci-fi novels of Heinlein - and with good reason. There is definitely a 'pulp' feel to his work in that it's straightforward in the telling, a linear sort of adventure story that hasn't forgotten the wonder and the joy of imagining the future.
That same feeling is embraced in CassaStorm but, as an avid genre fan of Alex's generation, I think it's safe to say there are other influences at work as well. In terms of story, setting, and spacecraft, there's a flavor of the original Battlestar Galactica series here, as well as something reminiscent of the Buck Rodgers television series with Gil Gerard. In terms of people and themes, I can definitely see the influence of Star Trek: The Next Generation - which I think is inescapable - but, if I'm not mistaken, there's a little something of Alien Nation as well, particularly in way Alex deals with racial conflict.
That's not to say CassaStorm is at all derivative or overly familiar, just that it feels as if there's a shared sense of sci-fi fandom behind it, a cultural awareness that fuels the wonder and connects the joy of the reader with that of the author. And, even if I'm completely wrong in pegging Alex's influences, there's no denying that reading his work reminds me of enjoying those shows myself.
One thing Alex does really well is 'sell' the reader on his world building. There's absolutely no doubt we're dealing with alien races on alien worlds, possessed of alien technology, and even a little bit of what some might call magic. He doesn't oversell it or try to make things too alien, but he also hasn't simply settled for slapping a new label on Earth, or a shiny chrome veneer on humanity. I bought into the Cassans, the Tgrens, and all the rest quite easily, and was suitably wowed by the technology of the ancient alien ship.
Another thing I enjoyed about the story is the father-son dynamic between Byron and Bassan. Having so much of your story hinge on an adolescent can be dangerous, but the relationship with his father pulls it all together. I understood the emotional distancing involved, and appreciated the awkward ways in which Byron was forced to demonstrate his affections. What's more, the final resolution of their tale is altogether rewarding, without becoming overly sentimental or 'sweet.'
Probably my favorite aspect of the novel, however, is one that I'm reluctant to say too much about. The idea of the all-powerful probe and the half-buried alien ship is fantastic, and while the concept of races being seeded across the galaxy is hardly a new one, I think Alex did an amazing job of exploring the possibilities and the consequences.
My only complaint about the novel, and it's something I only noticed in retrospect, is that we don't often know what anybody or anything really looks like. It may be a deliberate vagueness on the part of the author, allowing readers to imagine their own details, but it's definitely unusual in a genre which often bombards the reader with visuals to justify just how alien everything is.
All-in-all, an enjoyable, fast-paced read that not only delivered on the final climax, but also managed to pleasantly surprise me. If you're a fan of even one of the influenced I mentioned, then give CassaStorm a read.
Paperback, 268 pages
Expected publication: September 17th 2013 by Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.