"If you wish for peace, prepare for war." (Royal Navy Motto)
Seventy years ago, the interstellar supercarrier Ark Royal was the pride of the Royal Navy. But now, her weapons are outdated and her solid-state armour nothing more than a burden on her colossal hull. She floats in permanent orbit near Earth, a dumping ground for the officers and crew the Royal Navy wishes to keep out of the public eye. But when a deadly alien threat appears, the modern starships built by humanity are no match for the powerful alien weapons. Ark Royal and her mismatched crew must go on the offensive, buying time with their lives And yet, with a drunkard for a Captain, an over-ambitious first officer and a crew composed of reservists and the dregs of the service, do they have even the faintest hope of surviving....
And returning to an Earth which may no longer be there?
©2014 Christopher G. Nuttall (P)2014 Audible Inc.
I'm just a big kid.
I'm a retired USAF officer from Texas, and life long fan of the Royal Navy. I even had the happiness of serving (on land) with the Royal Navy a number of times during my Air Force career while stationed in England.
I even instructed for a month on board 'HMS Dryad', which is of course a land based training school, not a ship at all. But I was always tickled by the RN practice of calling their land bases 'ships'.
I've read all the classic RN 'age of sail' novels. I was excited when this book showed up on Audible.
The good news first: It's an interesting story with some fun twists. I grew to care about the characters. In fact, I knew military officers who had all of the problems that plague the characters in this book.
The well connected up and coming candidate angling to replace the older Captain of the Ark Royal was very realistic. In the USAF we called that kind of officer a 'fast burner'. I bet every military has them, including this future RN.
Good officers with drinking problems are very common, Nuttall scored a direct hit with this character.
The mid-grade officer whose marriage is threatened by long deployments is very common, and very heartbreaking!
I liked the way Nuttall handled his aliens. Unlike almost every other SciFi space war novel, these aliens don't want to talk to us. Very probably they can't talk to us, they may not even have the concept of 'talking' as far as the characters and readers know.
For some reason the aliens want to kill us and break our stuff. Why? What the heck are they after?
Sometimes the aliens seem much smarter than us, but then they'll do something that to us seems stupid. Why? Nuttall's aliens are much less of an actor in a rubber suit than most SciFi aliens. Are they devilishly clever or what?
I like Nuttall's aliens, they were very interesting.
The things the other reviewers complain about are all there.
I got really sick of 'gave them a bloody nose'! I kept saying 'forget giving them a bloody nose, they are fish! Gut them"!
Some of the conversations were pretty disjointed by the inserted mental self-dialogs.
It's tiring working on a ship. It's been tiring working on a ship since the first caveman hollowed out a log and rowed across a lake! In Nelson's time ships crews worked four hours on four hours off for years at a time! And they didn't even have sleep machines! Enough about being tired. Man up, space squids!!!!
It bothered me that the RN fighter squadrons of the future are commanded by 'Wing Commanders'. The RN does not have a rank or position of 'Wing Commander'. The RAF does, and for a while I thought that the Ark Royal's air detachment was in fact from the RAF.
I'm pretty sure that a typical RN fighter squadron is commanded by a person with the rank of 'Commander', or perhaps 'Lt Commander'.
That kind of bothered me.
I was disappointed in the narration. The RN officers I knew did not grunt like constipated old men, and they never shouted at each other. I've never sailed with the RN, but I really got the impression that the RN officer corps personifies the very reserved, dignified British gentleman's manner of speech. RN veterans please correct me if I'm wrong about this.
I can say for certain that RN officers are much less demonstrative than USAF officers from Texas! At least when they are sober. ;)
Britten has dozens and dozens of regional and class accents, and the Brits are very accent conscious. The narrator had only his own accent, his attempts to replicate other class and regional accents sounded very forced.
I came to overlook Mr. Nuttall's and Mr. Lister's little quirks because I wanted to see what was going to happen next! Isn't that what makes a good story?
If you liked 'Battle Star Galactica' and/or 'Master and Commander' you very well may like 'Ark Royal'!
EPILOGUE: I just finished volume two of this series, 'The Nelson Touch'. I'll review it separately, but you should know that the second volume is better edited, and has a tighter and more clever storyline. The narrator does a better job as well.
I'm looking forward to the third volume in this series.
Nuttall's Ark Royal begins a story arc set in the 23rd century after development of faster than light drives that allow Earth to populate near space. Quite unexpectedly a previously unknown alien race begins attacking outer settlements. With no means of dialogue, Earth learns that their technology is deficient, but an older warship (Ark Royal) is the only vessel that can put up a fight. While Earth attempts to retool, Ark Royal and her cadre of misfits and forgotten, go above and beyond to take the battle to superior forces.
The geopolitical organization of Earth is preserved with each major nation having established their own planetary colonies. England still has a king as well as a well bred aristocracy. Ark Royal is a starship carrier that has been mothballed and maintained barely functioning with a skeleton ragtag crew including a former alcoholic for a captain. Everyone rises to the occasion through a thrilling series of battles that takes place on both the grand scale and the personal. The sci-fi elements are routine with faster than light drive accomplished by "tram" lines in space that a special engine can access. Space weapons are straightforward and unimaginative.
The narration is well done with an excellent range of voices along with a smooth delivery, regardless of action. This is a very enjoyable listen with a classic theme rendered in a futuristic timeframe.
Ark Royal was an odd listen for me. The story itself is nothing all that original for a sci-fi novel and the characters are rather stereotypical: washed up Captain with a drinking problem, misfit crew of less desirables, ambitious XO that wants the big chair, etc. Nuttall's writing is a little on the dry side and Lister's narration matched it well. So as the hours passed by I was forming a solid "meh" opinion on this one. Then something subtly changed and I started to care. I found myself rooting for the underdogs and wanting to know what happened next. When things got bleak I found myself pondering how the crew of Ark Royal was going to make it out alive. And frankly, that's why I listen to audiobooks.
Ark Royal and her crew are the laughing stocks of the Royal Space Navy. 70 years old and more museum than active carrier, the old lady is parked in orbit around Earth full time. Her systems are out of date and her crew cobbles together whatever leftovers they can to keep her functional. She is also the dumping ground for Royal Navy personnel that have screwed up elsewhere. All of that changes in an instant when an unknown alien race arrives and cuts through the modern ships in the human Space Navies like a hot knife through butter.
Ark Royal has two distinct advantages over the modern ships - she is heavily armored and she still uses mass drivers for weapons, both of which turn out to be effective against the alien threat. Now her Captain and crew find a chance to redeem themselves and be more than the dregs of the fleet. None of this is overly original but in the end it was enough to get me interested and I have already started book 2.
If you are looking for some standard, solid military sci-fi and are willing to tolerate a little dryness in the story then give Ark Royal a chance - I am glad I did.
I love military sci-fi generally so I was excited to come across this series. I really liked the characters to start off with but they didn't evolve into much. Honestly, I didn't realize the genre could be made to be so boring and flat. I can't tell if the story is the problem or the narration, it's likely both contributed to the overall effect. I was able to get through the entire book but I really don't care what happens next.
Sci-fi, History, Police Procedurals and Science
In the past I have suggested that every Audible.com subscriber who listens to more than 50 books per year should be allowed to award a SIXTH STAR just once per year. Sort of a frequent flyer club for hardcore listeners. This year would be hard -- I would have to give out two, and they could not be more different books. Silkworm, a detective novel by J.K. Rowling (writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith) and the military sci-fi story Ark Royal by Christopher Nuttall, a Brit living in Malaysia.
First, both remind me that these are audiobooks, and that involves either a reading or a performance of the book. These are performances. I have told everyone I recommend these books to make sure to listen to them rather than read. The performances are wonderful. There are a dozen books I've listened to where the narration makes the book even more......these go on that list.
Second, both are excellent writers staying within the bounds of their genre. Rowling is like a vacuum cleaner -- it is as though she read every single detective procedural from 1920 to present and decided to write the best one of that school. (One reviewer criticizes her for not using the "Harry Potter" imagination -- but that totally misses the point of what she has done.) It is not derivative, it is just really proficient. Similarly, Nuttall writes the quintessential military space opera. He does not try to go outside of the genre or beyond it.
Third, in both cases I feel sad that character development, language and sly intelligence are so sadly missing in many books. When I read these two, I realize how much you miss that when its not there. I won't give away either plot -- but I hope you take the time to listen to these as they are fun, interesting, smart and satisfying.
Finally, I know.....it is only July. But I feel pretty sure that these won't be topped this year, although there is a second book following Ark Royal.
This book has the common issue of authors who can't do simple maths or don't think their readers can do simple maths. If a projectile is fired at a substantial proportion of the speed of light, and has a two and a half hour flight time to its target then the fighters that launch from that target are not going to arrive in a few minutes. There's no coherent fake world under this SciFi and that makes it ArtFi, not SciFi. I don't mind having impossible capabilities, that's why I read SciFi, but it has to be a consistent world or it grates.
What is with the sexist garbage? Why are we going on about how pretty the female officers are? Why is the female midshipman called a midshipwoman? Why is she bringing in the coffee and cleaning away the empties? Navies have people for that, they are called stewards, and they don't call the females stewardesses just like they don't have captainesses or leutenantettes. But most especially, even a _female_ junior officer does not do scut work.
And so to the story. If you are expecting anything in the way of tactics or realism you need to look somewhere else. The protagonists are stupid and facile. The author appears to think that computing will end at a 1990s level, no expect systems, none of the capabilities we are starting to take for granted in cell phones, and this is set in the future.
The reading is pretty good, there's not a huge variation in accents, and the Scottish accent is amusingly bad when you consider the author is from Edinburgh.
And by the way Jock (the author is a Scott). It is The Royal Navy... all capitals. It was and will always be the first Royal Navy so that is its proper name, it is not the British Navy. Sometimes you write like a yank, is that deliberate?
Did you know you can put in a set of Ear-Buds, slap your Hearing Protectors over them, and Mow the lawn, Weed-Eat, etc, without your book being drowned out by engine noise? OR, you can just let the horses in the yard, and THEY'LL mow and weedeat (literally) FOR YOU!
The Book has a "BattleStar Galactica" theme to it, but the story is told from a "British Royal Navy" viewpoint, which I actually liked a lot. We're used to "The USA Leading The Way", and in this tale the British Navy leads the effort using a Mothballed "Space Carrier Fleet" that was thought to be obsolete due to it's thick Metal Armor (Rather than the Newer "Force Armor" used by all of the Earth's Various Countries in their Modern Carriers and War Ships)... Same for the Old Ship's "Obsolete Solid Projectile Weapons". When the Aliens show up, they are pretty equal to Earth's Forces in Technology, and they are ready to easily defeat the Earth's Newest Technology, but they have NO experience with Ballistic Projectiles, and Thick Steel Armor that doesn't fail when electronic circuits in a ship are fried by Pulse Weapons and/or EMP devices...
This story COULD have easily been unbelievable and cheesy, but Mr. Nuttal does an EXCELLENT job keeping the story believable, fresh, and moving along at a good pace. History buffs will enjoy seeing some famous "British Wet Navy Tactics" used for Space Warfare by the Captain of the old Carrier. I also liked the Dry British Humor, and classic understatements when discussing actions and events.
Let me also say that Ralph Lister does an EXCELLENT job Narrating the book... He just NAILS the accents, and droll humor, perfectly! He sounds like he really enjoys reading this book, which always makes a book flow MUCH better overall. I HAD to give Mr. Lister 5 Stars for his Narration!
I think I especially like the fact that there are no "Miracles" to save the old Ship.. Just a Captain doing the best he can, with what he's got, and knowing his ship so thoroughly that he can use it's MANY quirks to his advantage when the fighting starts. He depends on his subordinates to do THEIR jobs, and to train the Rookies each time they get new personnel on-board.
I'm currently about half way through Book 2, and am enjoying it also!
Ark Royal is an interesting twist on the space shoot-em-up genre. Its heroes are an obsolete ship crewed by supposed low achieving personnel.
The ship Ark Royal herself was my favorite character because the key to her success was her age and quality of construction and maintenance.
It could be. There was no hurrying the story, and that was a strength.
I plan to listen to the entire series.
The characters were just deeper than one dimensional. They seem to have popped into existence the moment before the story began with the barest of backstories. Backstories designed to make them fit into whatever plot direction wanted to fit them into. The predictably gruff but brilliant captain has a drinking problem and must battle the demon while fighting the aliens. The aristocratic XO enters existence wanting to be captain but is oh so professional about it. Etc, etc, ad nauseam. The feel is more of a set of plot elements in the form of tin soldiers more than a creation of living beings in a real existence for the reader to love or hate, and ultimately, relate to.
That's forgivable. Hey, we aren't looking at a masterpiece classic here. But couldn't any decent writer fill an entire series exploring the idea of an alien invasion? Apparently, the author seems to be doing just that. So why do we have to go into explicit detail about *exactly* how the male/female fighter pilots are sleeping together? If we made a movie of this novel, you'd have to cut massive sections out just for the hope of an R rating. Romance? Even forbidden romance? Sure, I get that can spice up a novel. Bring it to life a little. But gratuitous sex scenes you can see coming as soon as two 2D characters first meet? Even if you like that sort of thing, at least it could be done well.
All negative aside, the author dutifully includes a couple somewhat interesting scifi concepts (gravitational trams between points in space) and brings an authentic naval military feel to the writing and tactical battle scenes. Just enough that I listened to the end hoping it would at some point redeem itself. Sadly, it did not, and I ended the novel with the impression of the Ark Royal universe being a hollow, dented, blow molded plastic copy of Battlestar Galactial trying to insist that it was something else.
The audio reading done by Ralph Lister, overall, was very listenable, but also fails to make the five stars. I can't say if it's a technical mic issue or a vocal cadence, but the last syllable of nearly each paragraph is cut off exactly the way an iPhone will do when it's fading the audio out when you get a call. So not only do you miss some things, but I found myself jumping to switch gears frequently at first, then as I got used to it, surprised a couple times when calls actually did come. Minor point. Really the audio performance is quite good, and Ralph Lister's voice seems to fit the intended feel of the story.
I did enjoy this book, and the second in the series, but I've decided not to blow a credit on the third. The headline of my review pretty much sums it up. The essential space-operatic premises on which these stories operate were worked out by David Weber and Lois McMaster Bujold years ago, and Nuttall contributes nothing new. The technology and its constraints are exactly the same, and in a few instances the weapons systems, drives, etc, even bear the same names. Of course Bujold and Weber can only write so much, and if you're desperate (as I was) you could do much worse. The pacing is good, the narrator is solid, and the characters, if a bit stereotyped, are still believable.
"A reasanbly good yarn, not very well read"
When you read the publishers blurb, you might be forgiven for thinking that this looks like a cross between Battlestar Gallactica and David Feintuch's "Seafort" space navy saga (Midshipman's Hope, etc). Having finished the book, you might well, as I did, still think the same.
The story is not bad, but, for me, there is not nearly enough world-building. It is set in a future earth where individual countries are building national space navies, colonizing planets and fighting interstellar wars against other countries. How we get from where we are now to that stage is not well explained.
Also not well enough explained is the central opening plot theme, where humanity’s navies suddenly decide move away from heavily-armoured naval space ships and certain types of weapons. I was still wondering why at the end of the story. Battlestar Gallactica handled that better.
I am afraid that the narration is poor. Ralph Lister has a tendency to read the prose in bursts, with his … pauses often not tieing … in with the natural … flow of the sentence.
As for dialogue, I sort of got the feeling that he has never actually heard two people having a normal conversation. Most of his characters address each other as if they were sergeant-majors on a parade ground, which is a little off putting. He does try to do different voices for different characters, but as they all bellow urgently at each other 90% of the time – even during the romantic bits – they do tend to start blending together indistinguishably.
It’s not horrid to listen to, but it shatters the illusion in a somewhat annoying way – especially when you start listening out for it.
I am going to listen to the next one in this series, but I have to say that, based on this performance, seeing Ralph Lister’s name as narrator in the future is likely to make me pass over books that I might otherwise have tried.
I'm actually enjoying the story, and I will probably get the sequels. It's quite enjoyable in itself.
The problems are:
- Ralph Lister's narration is absolutely fine - when he's reading the descriptive text. However, when he starts acting as the characters it all goes wrong. and he .. talks .. like .. this. He annunciates every word precisely, rather than as people actually talk. It's strange because he reads the rest of the book absolutely fine.
- I've been spoiled by Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet books. In those, he shows us the vastness of space, and the problems that combat in that environment would have. In Ark Royal, it's a bit more Star Wars-y, and space is very small. So, their ship jumps into a star system, and they get immediate communication from the planets asking who they are. Then, a bit later, an enemy ship arrives from a different direction, and a few minutes later they're in combat. Either they've discovered a way to have FTL travel, sensors and communication within a star system, or space has shrunk a bit.
- Also, there's a few scientific impossibilities (ignoring the normal Sci-fi ones, like FTL travel, etc) - eg the ship was 'orbiting a beacon' - that just can't work, unless the beacon is HUGE.
Apart from those little annoyances, it's not that bad a book. It could do with a bit of editing, and the voice acting is annoying, but, to me, the story's good enough to override that.
"Strange, not unsatisfactory but not great"
Strange, seems like a rewrite of a 40's war novel, or something earlier, hornblower even- names like Gladys and Rose, Ted, all so knowingly dated, brought forward to a Sci fi setting that just isn't that well thought out and isn't well written. Frightening old fashioned characterisations that fail to engage and are repetitive and one dimensional. There is something here, it could work but you end up feeling that it's a wasted opportunity.
"Needs work, but worth a listen"
This book is in dire need of a re-write. The story itself is fine and suitably entertaining, but by the time you've reached the end you be about ready to stop "playing doggo", "stagger out of formation" and "be given a bloody nose". So many phrases are repeated excessively, and concepts are laboured to the point that it feels like padding that it detracts from an otherwise engaging tale of nautical derring do.
There aren't enough characters, and those who are present are caricatures rather than well rounded people, but it doesn't matter.
Ralph Lister's performance often sounds like he's drunk.
These negatives notwithstanding, I'd recommend the book for those looking for some boys own adventure in space with a nod toward Battlestar Galactica.
"Average story - very poor reading performance"
I was excited by the idea of this story, but the implementation is fairly poor. It can't make up its mind if it is a first-contact mystery, a space-opera, or a character-development drama. As a result we have cookie-cutter characters spending paragraphs speculating about the nature and intention of vague aliens in between unexciting battles.
The central story - an aged carrier called into service as humanity's last hope - is sabotaged by two plot devices that bring it about. For no particularly good reason an advanced alien species has never developed projectile weapons, and for no particularly good reason humanity has only installed them on their oldest starships, despite projectiles being far more capable than the "modern" weapons either side has equipped themselves with.
The narration is well below typical Audible standard. The speaker uses a newsreader cadence, pausing at inappropriate times and misplacing emphasis. Whenever a character is speaking he uses a new emphasis that makes them sound alike and constantly angry, regardless of the situation.
"A great story- don't be put off by galactica links"
At first sight the similarities between Ark Royal and Battlestar Galactica put me off. However, this is an excellent book (and narration) and is similar to 'BSG' in the same way that the modern BSG was similar to its 1970's forebear. That is to say; similar but different enough to feel new and fresh.
More detailed review (sans plot details):
First off, I think it's fair to say science fiction has a potential new major player on the scene. The author is clearly very accomplished. He seems to have his writting influenced by a wide variety of authors which brings a lot of colour and life to his work. He is well versed in the technical subject area of this book (pseudo royal navy). While I suspect he does not have direct military experience, he seems to have a good handle on certain points of jargon, military culture and mindset. This adds depth to his work that enhances both the plot and his written style as he weaves age if sail, world war two and modern naval aspects into the future environment.
The writers style and story is very engrossing. It strikes a good balance between detail, context, description and action that really makes for a fast paced 'can't put down' book without the usual loss of plot, character detail, description etc. The book and it's blurb certainly suffers from a plot that (for anyone familiar with battlestar Galactica) is 'all to familiar'. My advise to all is to ignore the similarities and read this book as if BSG didn't exist. It's very engaging and the plot is far from a direct lift of BSG despite the first sight similarities. It's also very nice to see a novel like this written from the perspective of the Royal Navy and allows the author to weave the traditions and history of the Royal Navy (that I suspect he has a penchant for) into the story. I dont think I would offend the author if I was to say that I won't go as far as to say the feel and writting is as good as a Patrick O'Brian or a C.S.Forester but it's really nice (and unique) to see 'the Nelson touch' applied to this genre.
In terms of the narration I would say that I initially thought that it was 'merely adequate'. However, as the book went on I have to say that I warmed to the narrator and his style. I would now argue that the narrators 'gruff' and 'dry' (that last is perhaps a little unfair) style suits the book, characters and authors style quite well and I would hate to see (hear) a different person narrating these books.
All told 5 stars for me. In truth I would give it 4.5 stars on the basis that it's not an O'Brian or Forester or a world leader but as 4.5 stars is not available it will have to be 5 as it would be doing a disservice to a very good story and author to give it a mere 4. I look forward to reading many more from this series and author.
The attention to detail based on the Royal Navy made it very credible and aided the visualisation.
His voice is expressive and his intonation makes following multiple characters easy.
"Enjoyable space adventure"
Despite a curiously old-fashioned feel, both to the story and the narration, I enjoyed this. There is a little bit of the cardboard cut outs about the characters, and it felt as though the author was at a bit of a loss as to how to progress some scenes, but overall, it flowed quite nicely. I enjoyed it enough to want to know what happens in the next book.
The narration was a bit wooden, but I've heard worse. It wasn't bad enough to spoil the book.
"First audio book"
I don't have much time to read anymore so thought I'd try this while driving, works well through Bluetooth to the radio.
Enjoyed the story although it is a little strange getting used to listening rather than reading.
Still a little unsure of narrators putting a spin on their voice to sound like a member of the opposite sex but that apart it was enjoyable!!
"enjoyable but some needless romance in there."
The narrator was superb! but wish there would have been extra narrator for female characters.
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