Reading debut novels can be like a trip to the casino. You’ll always see something different. Sometimes you wish you hadn’t gone, sometimes you break even, barely. Occasionally, you have a really amazing time and come away with way more than you had going in. Reading Jake’s Law by William J. Coleman is most definitely the latter. If you stuffed Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a little bit of Robert Heinlein’s work into a blender you might get something resembling Jake’s Law. This science fiction adventure is an engrossing story and simply fun to read.
Coleman sets up Jake’s Law by building a world rooted in a rather interesting framework: Two planets have Middle Ages level technology. Both of these worlds discover (literally, as in ‘find in a cave’) interstellar spacecraft. The one planet, Beman, is controlled by a religious dictatorship and subjugates the second world, Aphal, in record time. There is a third world in the vicinity: present day Earth. No spacecraft to speak of, but home to incomparably advanced technology and more importantly, Jake Montana. Jake is an aging engineer who ends up in the middle of Beeman and Aphal’s conflict when he and his entire house are scooped up by a spaceship from Aphal.
Coleman also pulls the reader into the protagonist’s viewpoint; you feel Jake Montana’s confusion, outrage, joy and triumph as he continues his adventures. Since Jake is very much an everyday, Everyman sort of hero, you end up trying to figure out how you would react to the exotic and sometimes life-or-death situations he gets into. For instance, what would you do if you walked past the gate of what you were told was a government sanctioned orphanage and found the administrators had chained their charges to posts in the yard? I won’t give away the details, but I will say that Jake Montana is real big on justice.
I’ve read quite a bit of science fiction and Coleman has all the classic ingredients needed for a solid novel: interstellar spacecraft, an unlikely hero, bad guys who are really bad, self-aware computers and a beautiful, intimidating warrior woman. This is not to say that Jake’s Law in any way lacks originality or feels like it was churned out. It’s often funny to the point that I laughed aloud while reading more than a few times. Mr. Coleman explores some hefty individual and societal issues ranging from tyranny and retribution to personhood, free will and the nature of justice. Fortunately, the occasional topical soliloquoy by Jake never detracts from the fun and excitement of the story.
If you’re after a space-faring adventurre with great characters and a really satisfying style, Jake’s Law is for you. Even at a somewhat intimidating 600 plus pages, I looked forward to each break from work so I could see what craziness and innovation this engineer turned space hero would get into next. Frankly, the length of the book is a bonus: it takes longer for the fun to end.