on Feb. 26, 2011 :
The book is quickly paced, well-detailed, and hilarious. The beginning of chapter 2 starts with the sentence, "Ivan punched a dinosaur."
What lends genius to Kemppainen's writing is the format of the story. Given the prior knowledge that Ivan is a legend and that every tale is bound to be only a partial truth, it enables the author to craft the most magnificent and outrageous vignettes dealing with Ivan. Some say he's a robot, others say he's human, and some people claim he's destroyed an entire planet by himself. After every second-hand story about Ivan, Sid evaluates the information in a "report" that sums up the important details. Through Sid, the reader begins to gain an appreciation for what Ivan actually is, and just how much of the stories about him we can trust.
As with all of Kemppainen's books, the characters are well-fleshed out, distinct in every way from one another. There aren't cookie-cutter archetypes like you'll find in some space-opera novels, no token aliens who are only different from humans on the surface. Instead we get even bit characters with unique and believable personalities (yes, even the crazies that Sid gets his information from).
And, as usual, Kemppainen doesn't fail to immerse the reader in a different time and place. Rather than dumping large amounts of exposition onto the reader all at once, as some novels tend to do, he allows details of the galaxy that Ivan and Sid inhabit to bleed through in the stories and narration of the characters. Through Sid we learn of the Archivists, and the strange process that creates them; why they are so rare in the galaxy, and how horrible their interactions with their own kind are by nature. Through various denizens we learn of the corporate-controlled planets, large industrial espionage budgets, and weapons divisions that make up the ruling powers in the galaxy. Through Sid's contacts and familiar acquaintances, the reader is introduced to the methods of intergalactic travel without being bogged down in mechanical explanations.
Rather than focus on these mundane details, as so many science-fiction authors are wont to do, Kemppainen takes us on a journey with a very specific focus: the people and places in his world. And, just like any real human could tell you, it is through people that we learn the most about culture and history. It's refreshing to see authors who don't want to spend hours coming up with convoluted explanations for tiny details that don't really matter to plot. Yes, we are impressed with the amount of effort you put in. No, it doesn't enhance your story to spend two chapters on a starship drive.
Though all of Kemppainen's books are novels I enjoy a great deal, this one is my favorite so far.
(reviewed the day of purchase)