Full disclosure: I’ve known this author personally for many years. You can be assured that nothing in this review is totally objective.
That being said, I hope you can trust my review of Claiborne’s first published book, Planet Mission. I tend to be critical of everything I read, and always honest, and David accepted this risk when he sent me his book for me to beta read.
So here’s the big question: can my friend’s first book survive the fires of my literary judgement? Read on to find out!
Science Fiction (And Why We Read It)
Here at the ShortStoryTeller, we have an in-depth definition of what makes for good sci-fi:
A good sci-fi story should examine the current human condition by removing one or more of the physical limits in our existence.
Planet Mission revisits the historic concept of ideological/religious missions by placing us in a future in which far-flung human colonies in distant galaxies have grown up with wildly different belief systems.
But Claiborne flips this script over and sends out secular, socialist missionaries to convert these religious colonies. It’s a creative concept, one that allows us to inspect the religious missionary techniques of the past, and also the secular directions and policies that define our current society and its future.
Short, No-Spoiler Synopsis
Planet Mission is a story of a vast Earth-based government administration seeking to secularize their distant interstellar colonies and bring them into their socialist empire.
It’s a story of the elimination of religion in the universe, and the resistance of one planet, and the lingering faith of one Administration missionary.
In general, I felt that the characters behaved consistently and reasonably. The author develops them gradually, but they each continue to perform according to their core ethos, which helps ground the plot in believable behavior.
The two main protagonists develop a romantic interest that I found believable also, which was a fresh change from most of the recent indie fiction that I’ve read.
The primary antagonist spiraled downward rather rapidly, but as someone who has been involved in modern missions, it was easy for me to accept his transformation due to the demands of success, the stubbornness of the local population, and the unfamiliarity of the foreign world.
Added to that, there is a supernatural component to his transformation—one that is fascinating and also helps to justify his character arc. I enjoyed reading the development of all of these characters.
There was just one relationship that went under-developed, and that was a friendship between the male protagonist and one of his teammates. It was a friendship that was mentioned several times, but never really evidenced by the plot or dialogue.
The fourth moon of Polus IV is one of fascination and wonder. The spiritual elements blend with the extra-terrestrial elements to build a world just as colorful as James Cameron’s Avatar.
There are just two factors that lowered the score. First, Claiborne struggled just a little with his descriptions, sometimes repeating terminology that wasn’t very visual, sometimes over-explaining the scene in ways that conflicted with my own imagined scenario.
Second, the evil creatures of this world were under-utilized. The author created a terrifying monster, but failed to deliver truly terrifying conflicts with it. I really hope to see more from these monsters in the sequel.
Although the Christian themes in this book are quite excellently presented, the counter-positions are a little reductive.
The atheist and socialist antagonists in Planet Mission sometimes act a little outrageous, and respond a little clownishly, in defense of their ideologies. It’s not an easy task to accurately and respectably represent opposing viewpoints, and while Claiborne does a pretty good job, considering the challenge, this is where he has room for improvement.
Conclusion: An Overall “A-” For A Debut Christian Novel
Let me qualify this rating by pointing out the challenges in writing Christian fiction, which is something I have never felt qualified to attempt, myself.
Creating an interesting narrative while remaining true to Biblical standards without offending the expectations of the church community is extremely difficult. For a debut novel, Planet Mission is an exceptional success.
I unequivocally recommend this book. Not as a flawless example of fiction, but as a creative and well-written futuristic parable with a well-presented gospel message. It has enough narrative intrigue to maintain the interest of any reader, regardless of their personal beliefs.
Do you have any favorite Christian books or movies? Leave us some comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to TheShortStoryTeller for more indie book reviews!