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Sole Ownership
Douglas R. Miller
Hard Shell Word Factory, 244 pages

Sole Ownership
Douglas R. Miller
Douglas R. Miller hails from Erie, Pennsylvania. He has a PhD in animal physiology from Cornell, and has worked as a research scientist since 1977. Currently, he is a research associate in the Animal Science Department at Texas A & M. Sole Ownership is his first novel.

Hard Shell Word Factory

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Thomas Myer


First, the good news.

The premise behind Sole Ownership is a jolly good one: by the year 2005, humans have nearly wiped out the fishing grounds on which cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and their food supplies depend for survival. So the cetaceans fight back -- by employing lost or discarded weapons found in the ocean depths.

The novel opens with two such attacks: the first on a Japanese whaler, and the second on a US nuclear submarine. At oceanographic institutes, cetaceans in captivity are absolutely going bananas trying to band together with their open-ocean brethren -- much to the befuddlement of the scientific establishment.

The novel also has good pacing. The author switches between incidents and groups of characters very well, keeping the tension really torqued. It is also obvious that the author (who holds a PhD in animal physiology) knows his animal behavior -- and that he loves the subject matter.

Together, humans and cetaceans must come to an understanding, a balance, or engage in widespread war for sole ownership of the planet. Predictably, the humans opt for an expensive war (in terms of lives and property) instead of the less costly demands of the cetaceans.

Now the bad news.

Sole Ownership is not quite there stylistically. The dialogue is wooden, and often superfluous. Characters speak as they would in a book, and not in real life, speaking at length about the obvious, or saying out loud what most people would only think about. For instance, Rick, an oceanographer, says the following while out studying whales (and apparently finding out that he has stood up a date):

"Damn! I've been dating Elaine for the last two months, and she's really special. Now this old goat and his damned charts are keeping me here eighteen hours a day. I barely have time to eat, shower and shave, let alone keep a date. And the job doesn't even pay overtime!"

Although this paragraph condenses Rick's situation nicely, most of it could have been shown to us through action, filler, interspersed dialogue, etc. Instead, we frequently get nice fat parcels of infodump. Particularly, when one character spends several pages addressing the UN, he is interrupted (near the end of his spiel) by a Japanese delegate who says, "You are telling us that which we already know." In a world of gabby characters, even the characters get annoyed.

Also, some of the Naval/oceanography jargon is a bit dense; were I not an intense Tom Clancy fan, I'd have no clue what some of the terminology meant. The rest of it is just plot-stuttering.

Overall, the pacing is good, the idea is tremendous; but the stylistic issues will keep you from relaxing and enjoying the story. As a first novel, it is a good try. Because the author is so keenly aware of his subject matter, and is so enthusiastic about it, I honestly think that the stylistic issues will get smoothed out as he gets to know the fiction beast a bit better.

Copyright © 1998 Thomas Myer

Thomas Myer is a writer and editor. He works for Cisco Systems, Inc.

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