TracingTheStars.com was given a copy and asked to write an honest review.
I want to start this review by saying that while it only reached 3 stars for me, I believe that it could be a 4 or 5 star book for certain readers. The overall book is good. The overall writing is good. The dialogue, characters, plot, adventure aspect and pacing are also good. It just hit a few roadblocks for me that kept me from really enjoying it.
I think the first roadblock that threw me is the timeline. The events in this book happen in the last quarter of the 21st century. This made some of the technology and other aspects hard to swallow. We are asked to believe that, even though in 2014 we haven't even been to Mars, by the last quarter of this century, we will have survived a global sea-rising disaster, built a moon colony, invented teleporation technology (being used as mass transit, no less) and can build spaceships capable of travelling to other galaxies (using teleportation engines). I'm all for the suspension of belief, but not tossing it completely out of the window. I think if Paskoff had simply pushed the timeline up another century, I would have been more comfortable with what I was asked to accept.
Paskoff does explain the technology, and I actually enjoyed reading his ideas on using teleportation as a means of mass transit and as a way of propelling a ship through space. Unfortunately, these explanations were also part of a series of info dumps littered throughout the novel. While the writing around these dumps was good and enjoyable, the dumps had me skimming pages, wading through mindless facts as I tried to find my way back to the story.
The next roadblock for me was the cast. While the characters were well written in that they had emotions, life and growth, the character types used all felt a little too cookie-cutter. It's a very male, very stereotyped cast.
The anti-hero, Hawke, is a mid-life crisis, single, rough around the edges, right-stuff pilot who gets introduced to the reader via a bar-brawl to show how macho-cool he is against a pair of drunk locals who call him a gringo. Just about every guy in the book has an ex-wife or a wife they loath, and many of the women mentioned in passing aren't done so in a good light. Up until we meet Ben and then Jim's wife at around 25%, the book was giving me an uncomfortable misogynistic vibe. That was cleared away, but then then in stepped the main cast of ladies. The pretty blond girl is the ship's flirty doctor (who, of course, flirts with Hawke). There's a butch military major who's head of security, and an intellectual Chinese woman who heads one of the research labs.
Completing the cast is a sniveling, government lackey to look over Hawke's shoulder, a shy geeky software engineer and a bearded Indian geologist. There were some funny moments of dialogue between all these walking sterotypes, but I kept waiting for someone original to walk through the door. I think the most refreshing character was the Admiral, who was adamant that the newly discovered planet be something for all of humanity and not for pillaging by corporations. I also really enjoyed both Jim and Ben's characters.
The book, plot and cast all have the makings for a scifi-adventure blockbuster popcorn movie, like Armageddon, Pacific Rim or Battleship. It's also got a very heavy-handed pro-American, gun-ho action-film vibe. You know, the kind where America must be the best and beat China or Russia to the punch line (well, in M51, it's China and India). I could actually picture this book being made into a movie, and I think that's what kept me turning pages to find out what happened, which is why I think the 3 star rating from me may be higher for other readers.