Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Negative's Tale / R. Leib

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Science Fiction

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

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Here’s what the author says about himself: I publish under the name R. Leib. (I am not Bart R. Leib. He is somebody completely different.) "The Negative's Tale" is my first novel.

I am currently working on a volume of short stories and another science fiction novel.

I am something of a dinosaur. Most of my 30 years in the computer industry was spent developing and supporting software for mainframe computers. (For those of you too young to know what that is, mainframe computers were large, expensive, and very complex forerunners of modern day servers and PCs.) After studying science (the real stuff), reading science fiction, and working in a technical field, it made sense for me to express my creativity in writing science fiction.

Set in a far future where close-to-light-speed travel permits spaceships to traverse the universe, the novel follows the life and adventures of Allon Wu whose “negative” psychic abilities enable him to enter the minds of other psychics and channel their powers.


I don’t read much sci-fi nowadays (I was a big fan in my younger years), but I do sample a lot, always searching for a title that will appeal. The Negative’s Tale did fit that bill. I enjoyed the sample, and indeed the first part of the story immensely. I finished the book last night and I’ve been struggling with how to write the review ever since. So, this may be a little unconventional:

I think this novel is actually three stories compressed into one. It would work very well as a series in my opinion, but in combination, not so much. So, I’ll review each part.

The story opens with Allon Wu hanging out on a beach in a spacecraft that has multiple domes, each with a different simulated environment. We learn in flashback how Wu’s arm was disfigured—a well-written and exciting scene. Then we flash back to a ten-year-old Wu’s training as a “negative.” There were certain shades of the early episodes of TV’s Kung Fu, especially regarding the way the student, Wu, related to a wise, old professor. This was fascinating to me, and I was totally hooked on the story at this point. I think, had Wu then gone on to have a single adventure using his newly learned skills, I’d have been happy to read, “The End” and look for the next book in the series.

However, the story started to meander. It morphed into a whodunit where Wu had to chase down and discover the identity of a murderer. This all took place near a distant planet, on a vast spaceship, and frankly, it was heavy sledding. Wu would pick up clues, but never reveal what they were, merely say “Ah, I’m nearly ready to reveal the truth,” and move on to gather another clue. There were dozens of new characters introduced and everything became confused for this reader. Also, I hate having an author keep secrets—it makes me feel like I’m being talked down to.

Then the third part of story took place on the native planet of a race known as the Hydran—huge crab-like creatures with psychic abilities and strange mating and fighting rituals. Let me tell you, Wu needed all his wits to complete his mission on that crazy planet. I enjoyed this section, but it was rushed, and I thought the premise strong enough to support a significant expansion.

Allon Wu was a terrific character. His “negative” abilities were fascinating. The space opera aspects and time travel explanations woven throughout seemed technically valid to me and the science added to my enjoyment. I just didn’t think the story was focused enough, which is a shame.

If it were my writing, I’d hire an editor—especially to fix the point of view, which was all over the map and there were multiple occurrences where the author related scenes twice (same action but different perspective). Also, much of the story was told in flashback, or related as a story narrated in flashback whilst in a flashback—yikes!

Separating the stories would remove that complication by delivering three separate story arcs told in sequential time and anchored by Allon Wu.

Format/Typo Issues:

Too few to mention.

Rating: *** Three stars

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