Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Member Giveaway Reivew: The Terran Gambit

Image taken from www.goodreads.com

Author: Endi Webb
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 235
Warnings: Character Death
Rating: 2.5/5

Endi Webb’s “The Terran Gambit” follows the All-American space jock Jacob “Shotgun” Mercer as he fights for the Rebellion to free Earth from the imposing clutches of the Corsican Empire. There are several battles between the primarily Terran rebellion forces and the empire in space, and the scope ranges from ground combat between marines, gunfights between two-man fighters and crushing conflict between gigantic warships. The story shifts between several points of view, primarily the hero Mercer, his friends Megan “Grizzly” Po and Ben “Manuel” Jemez, as well as Captain Titus, following the terrifying antagonist Admiral Trajan.

I’m of two minds about this book. I found the overarching plot to be entertaining, but while I loved following the villain I struggled to care about the protagonists. In the beginning of the book an earth-let rebellion is crushed when their major spaceport is leveled by a nuclear warhead. I enjoyed reading about the tactics used by rebel and imperial forces to position themselves for a final conflict. I also thought the pace of the action was excellent, as the plot starts on a high-intensity moment, dips during the bombing then steadily builds to an action-packed climax. I liked that the book incorporated a lot of cutting-edge theoretical physics (which admittedly went way over head) and showcases them very effectively during the space combat.

As a result of the gradual ramp in energy there was a lot of time to get familiar with the characters. I think Webb chose to be expedient by having his characters tell the reader their backstories in big chunks, but it sacrificed a lot of realism. For example, there is a paragraph where Jemez is walking down a corridor, and starts summarizing his childhood and early adulthood (1). It ripped me right out of the story. I can’t imagine a human doing that, besides which it doesn't actually tell me much about Ben Jemez. Is he happy that he learned all these things, or proud of them? Why doesn't he brag? And if he’s modest, why not introduce this information while Mercer is chatting up Jemez’s more impressive physical qualities as his wingman? Po and Anya Grace also divulge their painful histories in a page of densely packed information to relative strangers, which feels more like Webb is crossing off a column labeled 'backstory' than writing people. Therefore I was not interested in their triumphs or worried about their struggles, because they felt more like cardboard cutouts.

However I believe Webb is very capable of writing characters well and slowing revealing who they are through their actions. Mercer is described as a talented, cocky, space jock. Within the first two chapters he exhibits impressive flying skills, comes up with clever tactics, says some crazy stuff (2) and flies a spaceship towards nuclear warheads against direct orders, showing me he is all of those things. He’s also apparently catnip to the ladies, but since he sleeps with one person and she’s the one who picks up him, I’m going to assume that’s his overconfidence speaking again. Another good example is Lieutenant Alessandro Bernoulli, who has the best introduction line in the book (3). Admiral Trajan is my personal favorite, and I was actually cheering for him in the last battle. That man starts out scary and somehow manages to get more terrifying until you want to run away every time he shows up. Trajan notably has a section where he talks for a page or so about his own history but because he’s using it to hint to a subordinate he killed his own father at sixteen, shit. That is a well-written character. Even though I didn't like all of these characters, they had a well-enough written personality that I had an opinion about them.

Another thing I felt was lacking is an internally consistent setting for the story to take place in. There’s a lot of lip service paid to an empire and rebellion that spans at least one galaxy (4), but very few characters aren't from earth and those that are never reference a heritage or even differences in their lifestyle and cultures as a result of growing up somewhere not earth (5). In addition very few recent events are mentioned by anyone, including Trajan, which is especially surprising as he knows a great deal about earlier history (6). Did nothing happen between 2014 and 2675? The most frustrating part is probably the huge gender disparity present in “The Terran Gambit”. Po and Grace are scoffed at for their discomfort regarding women in the military or even noticing that there are very few women around, implying everything is is rosy in the world of gender equality (7), (8). However of the 46 named characters in “The Terran Gambit”, 7 are women (9). That’s either the definition of a boy’s club, or everyone is in serious denial about a huge re-population problem on the horizon. These discrepancies between what the story says is happening and what is shown create a world doesn't hang together.

The hit-or-miss characterization and the weak setting worked together to make this a rocky reading experience for me. I probably only finished it because I promised to review it, and I would not be interested in reading the sequel.

I apologize if the pages numbers are off, I was working from several digital copies that had conflicting page numbers. I am assuming 235 pages for the sake of this review.

(1) And so he devoted himself: not just to his academic studies as his parents demanded, but to every skill imaginable. He spent the hours he should have been wasting as a free-spirited teenager at the gym, or learning parachuting, or bow-hunting in the wilderness with the local young rangers group, or target practice at the shooting range with his neighbor, a retired Marine general and expert marksman. He insisted that his ever accommodating, upper-class parents pay for an increasingly pricier range of classes, usually private instruction from one of North America’s premier masters of martial skills or craft. Kickboxing, karate in all its forms, wrestling … he did it all, developing a lean, muscular physique other teenage boys would have killed for, but as it was they ignored him—he seemed too self-assured, even cocky, for their tastes. (pg107)

(2) “He would not lose this fight, dammit.” (pg 1)

(3) A man with exactly one half of a mustache. (pg 96)

(4) Not to mention the ongoing conquests of the Corsicans. By last count, they had recently conquered their six hundred and twelfth planet out of the thousand or so settled worlds.
And over sixty years ago, Earth was the five hundredth—almost like an anniversary prize for the Corsican Emperor on his golden jubilee. (pg 5)

(5) “An Old Earth term, Captain.” (pg 133)

(6) “When Gioachino Rossini died, you know Rossini, right?” Titus nodded—how could he not know the composer of the William Tell Overture? “When he died, Verdi submitted a proposal to the greatest Italian composers of his day to collaborate on a Requiem Mass to honor him. The others agreed, and Verdi quickly busied himself with his contribution. But it soon became apparent that the effort was becoming mired in bureaucracy and politics, and rather than see his contribution languish, he wrote the entire mass himself. He then rededicated it to the also-recently-deceased poet Alessandro Manzoni. Now, Manzoni wrote many things, yes, but perhaps his most important work was the novel The Betrothed, which later became a symbol for the Italian Risorgimento—the political movement that sought to establish one unified Italian kingdom over the petty states that made up the peninsula at the time. When Manzoni died, the Kingdom of Italy had been made fact, and Verdi wanted to honor him, and by extension, Italy. Captain, am I boring you?” (pg 120)

(7) “Let’s just say I go to some interesting parties with the gal-jocks on our girls’-night-outs.”
Gal-jocks? Ben rolled his eyes at her anachronism—sometimes she seemed stuck in the twenty-fourth century. (pg 63)

(8)“Look, if you want to survive in a fighter squadron, if you want the boys to take you seriously, you’ve got to be not only better than them, you’ve got to own them. Overwhelm them. If I didn’t do this, none of them would take me seriously.”
Po turned and regarded her, wondering if she was serious. “You think that?”(pg 140)

I made a graph breaking down character gender. In times of great stress, I make graphs.

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