March 18th, 2008

there!, Hello

Another Pair of Books

22) One Day on Mars by Travis S. Taylor (2007, Baen Books, 290 pages).

This chest thumping example of miltary sf follows several plotlines set during a rebellious war on the United States colony on Mars. Several years before the novel opens, a different battle was fought between the Separatists (pejorative term: Seppy/Seppies) and the US. Pretty brutal, but it ended up with a negotiated peace in which the Separatists received a "reservation" to live on. Not content with this, they have initiated a full scale assault on one of Mars largest living city domes (the planet is slowly being terraformed, but it's not completely ready yet). Meanwhile, the US is planting a spy into the Seperatist reservation (her insertion disguised by the launching of a nuclear weapon at a Seperatist city). Meanwhile, a Democratic President is rendered ineffectual by Public Approval ratings. Meanwhile, a US GOP Senator (and former Marine) finds himself in harm's way, when the Separatists attack the very city he and his family are in; he knows that should he be captured, he faces torture and murder and his family faces worse and so dons the Action Hero garb to save his family. Meanwhile, squads of US Marines, Navy, and Air Force find themselves quite disadvantaged when The Enemy does not appear on their sensors; what should have been a simple enough mission against poorly armed and equipped adversaries blossoms into a SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fouled/Fucked Up) of amazing proportions. I think this covers the major plotlines.

Of the writing, this novel really feels like the descendant of classic sf in both the best and worst implications inherent in such a statement. Language and characterization suffer in the face of big ideas (the science is delightful and believable; the technology, however, is straight out of anime: transforming mecha ala Robotech, &cetera), thrills and action. Dialogue is familiar from countless war pictures. Only two chapters bother to show The Enemy's point of view (and these are the far more involving sections than any of the space or land battles). There's quite a bit of repetition (the end word or comment of one section becomes the first words/comments for another section, spoken by a completely different character; I wonder if this was supposed to emulate the similarity of perspective of the characters, but it became a tired gimmick after a while. An amusing drinking game might involve taking a shot at every mention of either "Oorah!" (original contender for the most repeated word in the novel) or "Guns, guns, guns!" (which may very well have ousted the leaterneck motto due to the abundance of air/space battles fought in the final sections; this phrase is delivered whenever Navy/Air Force personnel attempt to shoot enemy craft). Only the most hearty drinkers would attempt to take a shot at every exclamation point. There is a heavy reliance upon them, particularly during the nonstop combats of the final three quarters of the book. They appear in strings of dialogue (which is occasionally also italicized and IN ALL CAPS for even more emphasis), in silent communications with computer voices in people's heads, and even (so they might not feel exclamation point envy, perhaps) in exposition passages. It's! All! Very! Exciting! Or somewhat amateur, take your pick. As a reader, I don't need this sort of information rammed down my throat to provide a sense of urgency or excitement. A well placed use of italics works just fine for me. It's carefully constructed scenes communicated through selective word choice that provide the excitement, the energy. Not punctuation alone.

One Day on Mars plays out like an invigorating, R-rated, anime or a b-grade scifi flick for the mind's eye theatre. While the nonstop action gets a little, uhm, too much at times, the ending chapter provides a nice perspective on what has occurred, making this novel an intriguing setup for the follow-up (titled The Tau Ceti Agenda) due out in the next few months. Will I read said follow-up? Probably. The jury's still out as to when, though...

As I commented about the novella No Quarter in Horror Reader, I like my energetic prose delivered with effective words. And, in this case, punctuation.

On the other hand:
23)The Unblemished by Conrad Williams (2008, Virgin Books, 400 pages)
is a well written, paranoid nightmare of a novel, which recounts a series of bizarre and nightmarish events around the city of London, ultimately building to an apocalyptic resolution. Following some well drawn characters (a photojournalist, a mother, a victimized daughter, a homicidal madman and his mentor, and more!) through sequences that deliver shudders in strong but lyrical prose. It's no surprise that this novel won both accolades and the International Horror Guild award during its initial, limited release. Hopefully this edition's wider publication will net the author some more readers.
My Horror Reader review for The Unblemished will be up for this one soon.