Amy Spahn’s Preferred Dead is an interesting tale, a sort of tongue-in-cheek parody of interstellar exploration and alien invasion.
The crew of the United Earth Law Enforcement (UELE) starship, Endurance, is exploring a hitherto unknown planet. On the surface, first officer, Lieutenant Viktor Ivanokoff reports ‘dead bodies that are drunk and disorderly.’ With this strange report, an even stranger chain of events is set off as the ship’s captain must make split second decisions with inspectors from headquarters, who are determined to remove Endurance from the roster of ships exploring interstellar space, breathe down his neck.
Captain Thomas and his oddball crew find themselves facing off against a planet of undead—he doesn’t like calling them zombies—who are, in fact, a species that infected themselves with a toxin that killed all but their brain’s lower motor functions in order to escape death from a virus introduced into their atmosphere by the dreaded Haxozin Sovereignty—knights of the blood armor—who also happen to be at war with UELE.
Despite the occasional data dump, explaining this or that technology, the book is funny throughout, until the rather chilling final chapter when the reader is finally given a firsthand look at the Haxozin. The author does a magnificent job with the interaction between and among the characters, achieving maximum comedic effect as their various eccentricities are played off against each other. The starship has the usual cast of characters, an insecure captain, a brooding hulk of a first officer devoid of emotion, an insecure security officer, a medic who got her training online, and an idiot-savant engineer who is forever tinkering with things. All of their skills somehow kludge together to solve the problem of the zombies on the planet Thassis—only initially.
An enjoyable read but for a few wordsmithing issues that forced me on more than one occasion to stop and go back to make sure I understood what was happening and who was involved. The author mixes up character naming conventions to a point that readers are apt to get mixed up as well. For instance, Ivanokoff is ‘Ivanokoff’ at the beginning, and then suddenly he starts to alternate between being called Viktor and Ivanokoff in the same section of the narrative, which took me two read-throughs to sort out. A few of the other characters go through similar changes, and in the introduction of the ship’s captain, he’s listed by his first name, while everyone else is listed by last name—and, since his name’s Thomas, that, too, was confusing.
The book also had a few wording oddities, such as ‘. . . it wrenched his attention behind himself. . .” which evokes an image of a near physical impossibility, if not improbability.
Other than that the book was well-written and well-edited. It just squeezes into 4 stars.