Cover Image: Earth Retrograde

Earth Retrograde

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I still have to find a R.W.W. Greene novels i don't like and this is the second in a series that started with a bang and continues with another bang.
Well plotted, great world building, humour, alternate history: a fascinating mix that ketp me enthralled.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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Coming up with a truly original idea in any genre or medium of storytelling is always a big ask.

No matter how brilliantly one-of-a-kind your creatively epiphanic moment might be, it’s tricky not to sound like a thousand other great narrative ideas that have gone before; the trick is, of course, to give your inspirational spark a personality and form of its own so unique that it stands head or shoulders above its genre-mates and gets noticed but just as importantly, makes an impact.

One author who’s managed to do this with admirable vivacity is R. W. W. Greene, whose new novel, Earth Retrograde, the second and last instalment in the First Planets duology and the eagerly-awaited follow-up to Mercury Rising, manages to not only keep the story going but to do so in a way that absolutely knocks it out of the park.

Or the solar system, as the case may be.

In the breathlessly clever scenario that underpins the duology, Earth is no longer humanity’s after a powerful alien race from the near-neighbourhood (Venus to be exact) romps on in and declares that our precious blue planet has always been theirs and that we are evolutionary Johnny-come-latelys that don’t have a valid claim to our planetary home.

Humanity being humanity and not prone to taking these sorts of ultimatums lying down, fights back, but it does not go well; the First unleash the mother of all EMPs and millions die which triggers a rethink by Earth governments who agree to evacuate to a specially-created vast area in the heart of Venus or to Mars which ends up being split down the line, borders-wise at least, by the U.S. and Russia.

Not exactly one of Homo Sapiens’ finest moments but one we have to live with, unless, you know, we’re fans of dying which has not exactly been a hallmark of our species so far.

In this significantly altered reality, people either rush to evacuate on U.N.-sponsored flights to Venus, head to Mars if they are lucky enough to be a citizen of its two controlling powers, or stay put on Earth where they pretend life is as it’s always been which might work in the here and the now but which comes with a violently definitive end-date.

Or you can be like the hero/betrayer of humanity (depending on where you sit), Brooklyn Lamontagne, who spends his days trying to earn a buck racing back and forth across the solar system with his business partner, Float, a Jellie, tentacled aliens who are another race with which humanity is in contact and only slightly higher up the pole in acceptability and lifeform worthiness as far as the imperious First are concerned.

His is not a glamorous existence, blighted by some poor decision-making but also by the fact that Lamontagne, who suffered more than his fair share of hard knocks, has never really been at home among the politicking or maneuvering of the elite, being far more at home with the criminal underdogs who, as it turns out, might just be the ones to save humanity.

Not so fast because in Earth Retrograde, nothing is straightforward or certain and in amongst Greene introducing us to a raft of idiosyncratically compelling characters and some very grounded moments of ordinary living – while leaping between planets and scurrying across space might seem exotic to us, it’s run-of-the-mill day-to-day survival for Brooklyn and his friends/lovers/found family – it turns out something rather awful is in the wings that might just be a less attractive option that having a superior alien species change the planetary locks on us.

Yup, it can actually get worse, and when he’s not dancing around some major moments of espionage, ducking and weaving through labyrinthine political skullduggery and trying to figure who’s who in what’s now a very odd and strange galactic zoo, Brooklyn, accompanied by a sentient machine navigator named Om, has to figure if there’s some way that the worst effects of humanity’s latest existential nightmare – surprisingly not of our making which yes, comes as a great shock given our species’ propensity for collectively shooting ourselves in the foot – can not only be ameliorated but maybe even avoided.

It’s a big ask but if anyone can do it, it’s Brooklyn, not because he has tickets on himself or views himself as some sort of god-like hero, but because he’s the sort of person to act and get things done rather than sit by waiting for the universe to swallow him whole.

It’s possible that Brooklyn is the best thing about Earth Retrograde which is saying something for a novel that’s brimming with cool ideas, spectacularly good world-building and the sort of audacious plot turns that, rather than epically shouting themselves from the solar systemic rooftops, weave in and out of a deceptively simple plot that turns out to be fiendishly immersive in the very best of ways.

It’s possible in Earth Retrograde to think that not much is happening because Greene is happy not to push the narrative faster than it needs to go, but instead to let the characters do their thing and have the narrative spin quietly but impactfully spin out from there.

Hence, while you may bear witness to conversations about past loves or poor decisions at all kinds of fairly grounded events from high school reunions to casual bar conversations, every single moment in Earth Retrograde is leading somewhere big, masked beautifully by an author who knows how to bundle the epic in with the intimate and make them work incredibly well together.

Earth Retrograde is enthrallingly, cleverly good, a sci-novel that takes a well-worn genre, injects it with some seriously cool and highly original ideas and runs hard and entertainingly with it to the point that its quiet beginnings end up as some hugely imaginatively endings, proof that while it might not feel there’s anything narratively new under the sun, there is, and it’s big and emotionally impactful enough to leave a really lasting mark you won’t soon forget.

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Another great entry in the First Planets series, it had everything that I enjoyed from the first book. It had the same great overall feel to it and worked with what I was hoping for in a sequel. The characters felt like they were suppose to and glad it was just as good. R.W.W. Greene does a great job in writing this again.

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The nitty-gritty: R.W.W. Greene's witty and creative alt history series ends with a bang in this well written, if sometimes uneven, conclusion.

Last year I raved about R.W.W. Greene’s Mercury Rising, the first book in a planned trilogy. And oh what a difference a year makes. Due to reasons I can only guess at, Rob’s trilogy became a duology instead, and the author was forced to cram two books’ worth of plot and ideas into only one book. As skilled a writer as he is, Earth Retrograde unfortunately suffers from this in some ways, but is brilliant in others, and so this ended up being a mixed bag for me (and I'm sticking with my four star rating because the ending is so good). This is a sometimes uneven story that needed that extra book to make it a truly outstanding trilogy, but what the author does well he does really well. Therefore I can hardly fault him for giving it a good try, and I will say this duology is definitely worth your time, even with some of my complaints.

Also beware of minor spoilers for the first book.

The story opens soon after the end of Mercury Rising. Brooklyn Lamontagne has died and been brought back to life after being injected with alien technology nanobots. The First, a powerful alien race who claimed to have been on Earth long before humans, has demanded that they leave the planet. Various efforts at relocating billions of people to distant planets and moons are underway, but now Brook has been sent a message that could change everything. Someone has told him the First have left Earth, suddenly vanished into thin air, although no one knows why. Is this good news for the human race? Or do the First have some nefarious ulterior motive for leaving? Brooklyn is determined to solve the mystery, and he sets about doing just that with an assortment of rag-tag acquaintances, criminals, and close friends.

Just as in Mercury Rising, Greene has mastered a particular retro ambiance that mixes the hip sex, drugs and rock-n-roll mentality of the 70s with cutting edge alien technology. This combo is what makes his books so appealing to me, and I loved seeing more of it here. Brooklyn exemplifies that quality, a man who has been through a lot and yet still manages to stay upbeat in the face of terrible danger. Sure, he occasionally needs casual sex, drugs and lots of alcohol to get through the day, but who wouldn’t in those circumstances? Greene’s writing style mimics Brook’s devil-may-care attitude with punchy humor and sarcasm galore, and I spent a lot of time smiling and laughing at the characters’ wry observations and ridiculous antics. 

There is an overarching plot to Earth Retrograde, but it’s sometimes hard to see it. Brook’s life is filled with slice-of-life moments, vignettes that stand up on their own but often don’t go anywhere. One of the things I struggled with most is the overabundance of characters, many who appear briefly to star in a scene or two with Brook, then disappear, never to be seen again. I found myself wondering if a particular character had appeared in Mercury Rising, but I just didn’t remember them. Take the Purple Lady, for example. I don’t have any memories of her in the first book, yet she seems to be very important to Brook in this one. Other characters pop up, characters I do remember, like Andy, but her role this time around wasn’t nearly as compelling as it was in book one. New characters like Float, one of the species who the First created, became one of my favorite characters in the story. Yet like many others, I grew fond of them just as they were making their exit from the story. Brook is in constant motion, flying from Earth to Venus to Mars and back, and he ends up leaving many a good friend behind.

The story has bursts of exciting action, since Brook and his friends are trying to figure out how to save the world, but between those thrilling scenes are stretches of story that frankly lost me. I found myself reading pages at a time but not really absorbing anything. Whether this was due to my distracted mental state, or simply an issue with the plot, I’m not really sure. But many events seemed to appear out of nowhere without context. Had I really forgotten so much of Mercury Rising? I found myself lost until something else finally grabbed my attention, which made for a disjointed reading experience.

But then. In the last seventy-five pages or so, everything changed. Greene’s grand scheme was finally revealed, the answer to humanity’s survival was explained, and I began to love the story again. The ending was simply brilliant, a fitting conclusion for such a unique series. Greene mentions in his Acknowledgments that he always knew where the story was headed, it was getting there that had to be figured out.

So, despite some setbacks, I’m so happy to have read this series. Rob Greene has become a “must read” author, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Big thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.

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This duology is a quirky read that hits many main tropes within the genre, yet this turns out to be a memorably different read. Take our plucky hero, for instance. Brooklyn Lamontagne is a disaster magnet that never went looking for major trouble or adventure. After all, he ended up being a computer specialist – and yes… other protagonists claim to hate the adventures they undergo. But Brook really, really does. He self-medicates with alcohol a lot of the time – which was an aspect of the book I did find a bit annoying. I’m teetotal, so all the descriptions about the variety and quality of the strong stuff he was quaffing didn’t really do it for me. In contrast, many of the adventures he has undergone don’t get that much attention, because Brook can’t recall them.

We have a highly evolved alien species – the First, who now no longer need physical bodies. They claim to have visited Earth millions of years ago, before Humanity were around, and after centuries of watching us, they’ve decided to evict us. And they have the technology to persuade our angry politicians that agreeing to their terms isn’t such a bad idea, after all. They regard us with all the compassion we show an ant infestation. Fortunately, Brook doesn’t spend all that much time on Earth, as his disturbing reincarnation has all sorts of important people convinced that he’s an agent for the First. There are such entities working amongst the human population, after all…

I liked Brook and his instinct to try and help out those around him. But I didn’t ever feel I really knew him. It’s a book full of incident and unexpected twists, which drive the plot forward, rather than Brook having any agency. And that’s fine – it is, after all, a staple of classic science fiction. And Greene is good at keeping the pace up and the plot driving forward. However while I enjoyed the ride, I kept getting the sense that I was missing chunks of the story. And I’ve come away with a feeling that this series, while enjoyable, could have been so much better if there’d been three books instead of two. That said, the ending is fabulous and highly memorable. And so very clever. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come. Highly recommended for sci fi fans who enjoy alien encounters – apart from anything else, this is one I’d love to chat about with others who’ve read it. While I obtained an arc of Earth Retrograde from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

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Always entertaining, and almost self soothing with why things are the way that they are.

I do appreciate that this alternate history of space travel was very entertaining and super fun to read. Since it had been a while since reading Mercury Rising, some of the details from the first book were fuzzy, but I remember it being a really fun time. This was no exception.

I appreciate the weirdness and the succinct sarcasm.

Overall its a great series, and it will leave you laughing.

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[Blurb goes here]

Earth Retrograde is the sequel to Mercury Rising (3.78 stars on Goodreads). Mercury Rising is an interesting book with some great characters. The same cannot be said about Earth Retrograde.

Brooklyn Lamontagne has become a rock smuggler. The rocks are rare on Earth, even if they seem to be run-of-the-mill minerals found on every surface of the now-occupied Venus tunnels where humanity is supposed to go. You see, The First—as they call themselves—have set a deadline. All humans must leave Earth; the remaining ones will die when The First take over.

If you've read the blurb, the story seems quite exciting. It's anything but.

R.W.W Green weaves a tale with many unnecessary 'side quests' that fail to coalesce, creating nothing more than fleeting distractions from the main storyline.

Then there's the absurdity of the tech. This is just one of many instances: when it suits Greene, fuel is something to be mindful of when traversing space between planets. Then, by whim, if the main character is in a hurry to get somewhere, fuel is a non-issue.

I wanted to like this book as much as I did the first one. I couldn't.

Thank you for the advanced copy!

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Earth Retrograde had one of the coolest endings I have ever read. Full stop, I was blown away by the absolute genius of how this series ended. I daresay it is one of my all-time best endings ever, if that is a thing (I'm absolutely going to make that a thing, tbh). And that is sad, because I want to shout about it to everyone, and discuss all the stuff, but I cannot. Because spoilers are rude, and I aim to be non-rude. So here's what I am going to do: I am going to implore you to start/finish this series, so that we can discuss it. Here are some reasons why that would be a good life choice:

►The aforementioned amazing ending. I did all the work for you, so you don't have to wonder "hmm will the ending be satisfying?" because you know it will. Saves you any worry, which is very nice of me.

►This is a duology, we love those! In fairness, I am a wee bit sad, because I didn't want it to end. However, I think the series ended up being the perfect length and this was a very good life choice (the author mentions that it had been intended to be a trilogy, and while I am sad to leave the world, I think it was done perfectly).

►The characters are wonderful. They are flawed messes, but in the most enjoyable way! They're like you and me, right? We're all messes, and in this series, some of those messes have to try to save humanity and stuff. Love love love it.

►Alt-history is becoming such a fave for me. In this book, for example (and this is told early on so not a spoiler, really) the Oppenheimer Nuclear Engine allows for earlier space exploration. JFK lives. And like all good alt-history, you can't help but wonder, what leads to what? The butterfly effect is full force, leaving the reader with a million thought-provoking questions of "what-if?".

►The story is very entertaining. It's exciting, because of that whole "saving humanity" thing, but it's also just written in a way that makes it fun while also being high stakes and full of adventure.

Bottom Line: Have I convinced you yet? Read this, read this now. And then message me so we can talk about it please and thank you!

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I forgot I hated the first book and this book didn't do much to improve that belief. The characters aren't compelling or interesting.

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Earth Retrograde is the second book in the First Planets duology.
It takes roughly 20 years after the first book, Mercury Rising.
Earth Retrograde involves an evacuation of Earth and a couple of side quests along the way.
Mr. Greene has put together a fantastic world where everything got jumpstarted early.
The moon, Mars, Venus and the Asteroid Belt have all been colonized.
I enjoyed the first book quite a bit. There were a couple of spots that dragged me down. I’m happy to say that there were none of those issues this time around.
This book started off strong and kept up the pace until the ending. A very satisfying ending, at that.
This is an alternate history that can stand with the best of the classic Space Opera books from the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

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One of the most rewarding experiences of reading the Indrajal Comics version of Flash Gordon in my childhood was that those comics took Flash, Dale, and Zarkov outside the confines of the palaces of Arboria and the arenas of Ming and out of Mongo itself. In the pages of those comics, our heroes fought Skorpi invaders in ancient Mars, chased an outlaw in the moons of Jupiter, battled a crazed, thawed-out Norse warrior in the Arctic, and foiled a plot to devolve Venusian fauna to prehistoric predators. I loved those stories because they expanded the world and populated it with interesting characters – Roper the Mercenary, the misguided tech billionaire, Willie the Psychic, a group of precocious kids.


(Indrajal Comics published licensed comics like Flash Gordon, Mandrake, Phantom, Rip Kirby, and Garth in Indian languages. I used to read those in Bengali, my native language.)


As a grown-up, I re-read those Indrajal Comics issues and also sought out the original source materials – the works of Alex Raymond, Mac Raboy, Harvey Kurtzman, Dan Barry, and Jim Keefe. And I came upon another very interesting storytelling technique they employed: the use of our Solar System as a setting.


The use of our own backyard, as it were, in science-fiction stories were in vogue in the heydays of the pulp magazines – Northwest Smith and Flash Gordon were two most famous examples. But nowadays, space-opera is almost always set in far-flung galaxies and distant worlds. While there’s a lot of creative freedom to be had in the Star Wars Empire or the Warhammer 40,000 Imperium, or Star Trek’s Mirror Universe, there’s something to be said about stories that utilise worlds that are closer to us – the Moon, the satellites of Mars, the Asteroid Belt.
It is precisely this factor that drew me in to Earth Retrograde, the second in the First Planets duology by RWW Greene. The book starts with a recap of events that led to this story (note to all series authors: please do this) and those events form a delightful alternate history. Oppenheimer invented the Atomic Engine in 1945. Mankind walked on the Moon in 1950. The Mercurian Menace are defeated by a group called Freedom 7 in 1961. As I was going through the timeline, my grin got bigger and bigger.


And then the real story began. Since I’ve not read Mercury Rising, Book I of the duology, I found the story a bit difficult to get into, but once I found my footing, it was one long happy reading.


Greene has managed to sculpt a masterpiece in terms of world-building. There are criminals, there are secret agents, there are rival political and religious movements, there are squid-like aliens, there are sex-clubs for the aforementioned squid-like aliens, there are neighbourhoods for Hollywood stars on the Moon – it’s a smorgasbord of cultures and places and peoples and species in this book.


The fact that it’s set in our Solar System makes it especially enjoyable for me. Also, Earth is front-and-centre in the book. We get to know the politics and sociology of Earth against the backdrop of an eviction notice served by an alien race.


But no amount of world-building can sustain a book if the characters don’t resonate with readers. And here too, Greene shines. While Brooklyn, our hero, takes the centre-stage, the supporting characters also well-developed. I particularly liked the character of Evelyn who grows from a one-night stand for Brooklyn to a heavyweight in her own right.


Earth Retrograde is a tip of the hat to the Solar System-based science-fiction of CLE Moore, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mac Raboy, and James S.A. Corey. It is also very much it’s own beast, serving as a template for what can be accomplished in 60-odd chapters – spoiler alert: a lot – if the author has boundless imagination to come up with one bonkers thing after another but enough pragmatism to prune those things where necessary.
While the story of Brooklyn Lamontagne ends here, I hope Greene considers writing spin-offs. There are enough interesting characters here to merit books of their own.

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Thanks to Angry Robot and NetGalley for supplying this ARC of Earth Retrograde by R.W.W. Greene.

I didn't realize this was the second part of a duology when I requested it and was on the verge of responding with a 'review' explaining that I wouldn't be rating it for that reason when I changed my mind and decided to buy book one in the short series - 'Mercury Rising' - so that I could set myself up to read and review 'Earth Retrograde.'

I'm glad I did because although, for me, 'Earth Retrograde' is just not as strong as 'Mercury Rising' as a pair they're very enjoyable and I think it's fair to say that my four-star rating is based across both books rather than solely on 'Earth Retrograde.'

This instalment sees the hero of the first instalment, Brooklyn, expanding his horizons - figuratively and literally and we see him skipping about the solar system in the Victory and - whereas he was saving the earth in the first book - his adventures in this one ultimately leading to him trying to save the solar system.

'Earth Retrograde' is not as snappy and character-driven as the first book and we get a bit bogged down in the various alien groups and the politics and machinations of who's done what and who's planning this, that, or the other.

The author in the acknowledgement admits that this was supposed to be a trilogy and it feels a bit like a book and a half squeezed into one book so it feels long and with lots happening. Possibly a shorter second and a separate third book might've given everything a bit more space to breathe and worked out better.

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So, if I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be discombobulated.

To get into it. Have I read mercury rising?
No.
Did I listen to the audio book? Yes. The narrator, I think, made the book. That was one audio book I thought was great, because the cheesy sci-fi went with the voice. However, what I got from mercury rising was a great guilty pleasure, a labour of love by R.W.W Greene. I never knew it was book 1 of a series. Here we have book two and I just felt confused the whole way through. I couldn't really see a plot, hundreds of different things were happening and none of them seemed in anyway to go together. One minute this was happening and then this and it was like a mad mind map made by tens of hundreds of people. I liked mercury rising, but I can't help but think this was something R.W.W Greene was forced to write, the publisher's pumping more out of him when he didn't want to do it. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe he did in fact want to write this. Maybe as soon as he finished mercury, he opened up a blank page and set all these thoughts down. But I didn't see any passion. I didn't see the love that was in mercury.

I was disappointed. I didn't read this for the writing, I didn't read this for the plot, if there's one thing I thought RWW Greene did well with Mercury , it was lamontagne, the character. The audio book was great and the narrator did a brilliant job of breathing life into him. With earth retrograde I struggled to keep interested. Which was a shame. I'm a fan of mercury, I think RWW Greene although not the most eloquent has a unique style of cracking something down into a brilliant analogy, I remember a quote in the book, as dense as a shot glass. I wanted more of that. But I didn't get it. The book seemed like a bunch of disconnected short stories and you hope it leads to something, but I just continually compared it to Mercury Rising and I think Mercury Rising was better. I think they should not have done a series. Let Greene explored the concepts with different characters. It's a shame because I wanted to like this. But, I just didn't.

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