fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Sandcats of Rhyl by Robert E. Vardeman science fiction book reviewsThe Sandcats of Rhyl by Robert E. Vardeman

The Sandcats of Rhyl, Robert E. Vardeman’s first novel, is possibly the worst novel I’ve ever read. It is bad in every sense — so bad that I wondered if it might be a parody of bad science fiction. Apparently it’s not a parody; it’s just simply bad.

So how did I end up with this awful book? It was one of those daily ebook deals at Amazon. I think I paid 99¢ and then added the audio narration for 99¢ more. Before I bought it I checked the star ratings at Amazon just to make sure it wasn’t something everyone hates. Well, according to the average rating at Amazon (4.5 stars at this moment), readers love The Sandcats of Rhyl. So, a 4.5 star ebook and audiobook for $1.98? A no-brainer, right? I bought it. What I realize now is that I looked at the average rating but didn’t bother to read the reviews. If I had done that, I might have figured out that readers who love The Sandcats of Rhyl probably do not have the same criteria for excellent science fiction that I do. Lesson learned.

So, The Sandcats of Rhyl is about a man named Roderick Nightwind who discovered that there’s something very valuable hidden on a harsh desert planet named Rhyl. Off he goes to Rhyl with his cyborg companion. Along the way he meets a beautiful woman who is trying to discover his plans and is willing to seduce him to get information. When they get to Rhyl, Nightwind and the cyborg hire a guide to take them to the place where the treasure should be while the beautiful woman and her sociopathic goons secretly follow them. Then there’s the inevitable showdown between all the characters and some large telepathic cats who have their own reasons to defend the treasure.

The first problem I noticed with The Sandcats of Rhyl was the writing style. The imprecise use of language, the clunky dialogue, the awkward sentence constructions and the insipid figures of speech were impossible not to notice. Here’s an example from the first chapter:

“The vise grip on his forearm stopped the man as surely as the cold words, “Don’t even think of hitting him again,” pouring like melted snow from Nightwind’s thin lips.

Even the very first paragraph should have warned me to stop immediately, but instead of quitting I just sat their gawping, feeling cheated out of my $1.98, and planning to get my revenge by diluting the 4.5-star Amazon rating with my own 1-star review.

The next noticeable problem is the characterization. At first our hero Nightwind seems aloof, cool and mysterious as he dramatically orders a drink, brushes off a beautiful woman, and easily disarms the goons in a bar. At that point I was hoping he might be interesting, maybe even sexy (as you can see, I’m still hoping to salvage this story!). Like maybe he’d be smart or witty or have a cool job — but… no. The characterization of the two villains (the goons accompanying the woman) is worse. Their only emotions are hate, greed, and lust. They’re big dumb oafs who say things like “What’ya mean?” and “Huh?” when Nightwind speaks to them in sentences containing more than one prepositional phrase. It’s really hard to be scared of these guys. The narrator, Stephen Bowlby, makes it worse by giving them oafish voices. That’s probably what the author intended, but it’s eye-rollingly over the top.

That brings me to the plot. It was obvious where it was going from the very beginning. It’s one of those bad-guys-follow-the-good-guys-to-the-treasure kinds of plots with the weird addition of telepathic tigers. I foresaw every “twist,” including the one where the bad guys double-cross the woman and plan to rape her instead of help her. By this time I was really disgusted with myself for continuing to listen to this stupid book, and I was certain that I was losing one IQ point per page (which would have been a total of about 100 IQ points so far, something I definitely can’t afford), so in an attempt to regain the points, I challenged myself to predict the rest of the plot. Which I did. As just one of several examples I could share, I guessed correctly that the bad guys would put Nightwind and the girl in a pit for the sandcats to come along and kill. Oh, come on! Haven’t these idiots seen any Bond movies?! This never works!

Save yourself $1.98 and skip The Sandcats of Rhyl. I can’t speak for any of Robert E. Vardeman’s later novels but, based on this one, I’m not eager to try any more.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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