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  • Writer's pictureG R Matthews

The Phoenix Conspiracy by Richard L Sanders

I didn’t pay a penny for this book, not one single cent, rupee or any other small denomination of currency. It was free. The advent of Kindle Publishing (the dominant ebook force in the UK) and others has taken us down the same road as the music industry; artists who spend many years and thousands of hours learning their craft and honing their skills then struggle to get a fair wage for their work. The music industry has found ways around, or at least to mitigate, this; subscription services and royalty payments from the likes of Spotify and Youtube. It is not ideal, and making a living for most musicians (even the incredibly talented ones) can be tough. The book industry is still finding its way along this path… actually, I must trade mark the websites Youread and Storyfy. I could be rich! Anyway, back the book. Sorry.

The Phoenix Conspiracy is the first book in science-fiction story set in a future where the human empire has expanded through the stars and now butts up against other alien species. As the story begins a traitor has been captured by a young intelligence captain and is being delivered to his doom. But, our hero, Captain Calvin – a rising star and maverick in the intelligence services – cannot resist a puzzle and something is nagging at him. Why did this respected, decorated navy officer go rogue and attack harmless civilian ships? His investigation takes him into the heart of a conspiracy (hence the book title) that could threaten the very existence of the human empire.

The book itself has been out for quite a while and racked up hundreds of reviews on Amazon. 400 out of the, and I have rounded the figures slightly to make the maths easier, 500 reviews are four and five stars – so you can be pretty sure that people enjoyed the book. I know I did. The structure of the story is quite simple and it is an easy read. There is adventure, betrayal and revelation at every step. The characters themselves are well enough drawn, the author hangs each member of the crew on one or two traits; the weapons officer is in love with the navigator but insecure, the XO is a by-the-book logical thinker, the doctor is old and crotchety. It would be easy to complain that this lacks depth but it works well enough in this story to keep the characters straight in your head and to predict their reactions to the situations they find themselves in. This is also an author who is willing to kill his characters off and you might be surprised at the body count by the end.

The story is reminiscent of the Star Trek novels and that is an easy comparison to make – it is a crew, on a star ship, why wouldn’t the Enterprise pop into your brain? It must be a worry or concern to every writer of ship based science-fiction; am I writing Start Trek or Star Wars? In the end it doesn’t matter. The story is well-paced, the twists and turns are done well, and you can forgive the odd typo (there really are very few) as, when it ends, you want to read the next one. On that subject, the next one isn’t free – the price hike is substantial (Free to £4) but as I said at the start, this is an industry trying to find a pricing strategy that works. And £4 for a book, for many hours of pleasure, is still incredibly cheap.

Give the first book a chance. It is free, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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