Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.
Home on an Alien Range
Reviewed by Mark Lardas
March 26, 2023
“Space Cowboy,” by Justin Stanchfield, WordFire Press LLC, 2023, 208 pages, $15.99 (paperback), $4.99 (ebook)
Travis McClure is a cowboy, all he ever wanted to be. But he wants be at his family’s ranch on Earth, not under the twin suns of Aletha Three. Debts led his family to join a terraforming project there.
“Space Cowboy,” a science fiction novel by Justin Stanchfield, opens with Travis discovering traces of an animal that should not be on Aletha Three. It is killing the cattle he, his family and the trail drive team they belong to are herding.
Travis is 16, and has lived on Aletha Three since he was eleven. A working cowboy, he is on a new kind of frontier. The cattle they are driving are helping transform the planet from a desolate, arid waste to a fertile second Earth. Their droppings and their hooves churning the soil they pass over help jump-start fertilizing the soil.
It is a hard frontier life, mitigated only by the promise the pay received will pay off loans on the family ranch on Earth. Now something is threatening the herd – beyond the planet’s harsh weather. An alien predator has been introduced. Travis, despite his own wishes and THOSE of his parents, has become involved with dealing with it.
Travis’s life becomes more complicated with the arrival of scientist Adrian Lebrie and Adrian’s teenaged daughter Riane. Travis and his father rescue the pair after they crash their spaceship. The Labries are there to conduct an audit for the Free Planet Society. They plan to halt the terraforming project. Some on Earth are unhappy with the attempt to change the environment of Aletha Three.
Other factions are at work, unknown to those employed by the company terraforming Aletha Three or the Lebries. Travis is caught in a space age version of a range war, as a competing company tries to take over Aletha Three.
The story is a fast-paced, high-tech version of the western. Instead of being set in the nineteenth-century American West, it takes place in the future, when interstellar travel has become a reality. Yet it contains all the tropes of a traditional western: a frontier setting, cattle drives, range wars, and battles with predatory wildlife. Mixed in is a coming-of-age story for the two teenaged protagonists, Travis and Riane.
“Space Cowboy” is the brand of science fiction common in the 1950s and 1960s; upbeat, fast-paced, and exciting. A enjoyable story, it updates the western in a believable manner.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.