Now for day two of non-pony reviews. Of three days, since I have another one coming up tomorrow. Wait, maybe more if I read those two short stories I’ve got on my kindle. Thought about keeping the non-pony stuff to Thursdays, but then it would take forever to get through them and I need content to fill the void left from not having enough pony reviews. I’m reading a bit of pony stories, so might alternate. As you can see, I’m keeping the local tradition of not really caring about schedule or planning. You’ll get whatever content I’ve got when the morning comes around.
So, Ark Royal by Christopher Nuttal. Summary: I didn’t finish it and thought it was very poorly written. Below the break is a fairly long rant about all the stuff I really didn’t like.
Eh, this started with interesting and then slid slowly down into generic and cliche. Below the break is pretty much 95% pure ranting at author incompentance and assumptions. I don’t really try to be all that objective or critical here on City of Doors, but even what little of those I have got chucked out the window for this one. Short recommendation: Don’t read it, it’s not very good. The first bit was interesting enough that I bought it after reading the sample, but after the first 20% or so it slides downhill into poor bland writing. However, the one good thing is that it was a 3$ ebook I got off amazon. So I’d say that it wasn’t a big enough disappointment to make me feel like I wasted the purchase price. It had a neat idea and I enjoyed the first few chapters before things got boring, and 3 bucks is worth trying on something that seems okay.
Once you are made aware of certain subtext/cues it’s really hard to stop noticing them. Been reading a decent amount of stuff in how women are portrayed in media (fun game, when watching tv or movie pay attention to how guys get punched and women get slapped. Since I started paying attention, I’ve noticed that pretty much 98%+ of the time a woman gets hit in a tv show or movie, it’s a slap. Almost never a punch or anything else). Which is one reason why my enjoyment of the most recent Dresden book was a bit lower than previous books. I still enjoyed it, the Dresden books have plenty of redeeming features and really good writing. This book doesn’t have that protection. So I notice that even though the characters claim that the crews of the spaceships are mixed, that British spaceships have a 70/30 split of men/women, the story taking place on a ship (with a crew of dozens, maybe hundreds? It is unclear on details) has exactly two female characters.
One is a midshipman who is introduced to us by someone noticing how hot she looks, and nothing about her skills like he thought about for the three guys he was also introduced to. Literally the scene was (he’s a good engineer, he’s got a interesting career, he seems to be moody but skilled, she’s hot in that uniform). A midshipman is an apprentice officer, there to learn and assist the officers in running the ship. This midshipman is shown a handful of times, always as a servant bringing the captain food or reminding him to get some rest, usually because the first officer told her to. The other female character? He first bit of characterization is that she’s hot, of course, and that she has a boyfriend. The boyfriend gets killed in an alien attack and she gets mad at that. Then she starts sleeping with her superior officer in the fighter squad. Who is married, loyal but slightly unhappy. Of course she’s the one that initiates it and it’s always framed as him trying to resist, but she’s just too damn hot how can he be expected to control himself when his penis gets hard? No, really, that’s how it’s frame like twice. I’m not even paraphrasing that much.
Oh, wait! Maybe I was all wrong. A third female character just showed up at the 2/3rds mark. It’s a one-off character who gets in trouble because she lost a bet and had to do a striptease in front of a bunch of guys and that got her and some of the guys in trouble. Nope, not wrong. Pretty much the same. Well. At least it was the guys fault this time. The first officer points out it was their idea. The woman is on her first cruise and was just too naive and sweet and got tricked into taking her clothes off. That’s… not a whole lot better. Well, it leads to a fourth female character being mentioned in passing as a good mentor. So, that’s good! Though I’m sure if that fourth character has more of a presence that having her name mentioned in a single line, she’ll get framed as either sexually aggressive or innocently naive.
Hey, got another female character at the 74% mark that actually just gets introduced in a conversation. Only comment is that she’s a bit of a gossip, but that is neutral enough to get a pass. Well, that and the guy noticing her age and comparing it to the subordinate he’s sleeping with.
The author really only focuses on what he likes, instead of what might be best for the story. The lack of the midshipman character except when he needs some servant-type to deliver the captain something. The lack of any real presence of bridge crew, or crew in general except for specific scenes. The fact that the main ship is leading a fleet of like a dozen ships, which pretty much get ignored except for a comment here or there during combat. The characters made several really dumb decisions for no other reason than, um, actually I’m not sure why. Not really for plot. I guess because it would take an author some creativity and actually thinking about things to deal with the consequences of actually doing sensible things?
Example 1: They get to the first planet the aliens attacked and find it destroyed. Except not from orbit. The aliens apparently invaded with troops. They go down to check it out and find the few settlements just trashed, but no bodies. No survivors, no bodies. Oh, and they say the bodies could have been buried by a few survivors who fled the woods, but aren’t sure. Apparently spacefuture marines in power armor can’t actually check to see if there are fresh graves or makeshift grave markers around. Like they don’t even check. But the really dumb part is they find a single dead body. The only human body left on the planet. They sigh over the loss of life, comment they don’t have any way to bring her back home, then bury her. They don’t even check how long she’s been dead, or what killed her! Like, was she dead before the aliens came and they missed her? Oh, right, I guess this should count as the fifth female character in the story. A dead body. Anyway, they don’t check if she was shot, if the aliens had some energy weapons or used swords, or any examination of literally the only piece of evidence they found on the planet. The marines literally just land, look around at all the blasted buildings, say “this is horrible” and leave.
Example 2: They get to a very lightly populated alien system. They blow up a space station, which makes sense given the aliens have better weapon technology, but then start blowing up all the satellites in orbit. Satellites that the fighter pilot mentions are just civilian models, but they can’t risk trying to capture one because it might have a weapon. Dumbest comment so far in the story, and that’s had some competition. The aliens have far superior technology and the humans haven’t managed to get a single piece of intact alien tech to examine yet. Just tiny pieces of space debris from the one victory they’ve had. Getting one of those intact satellites to examine their power source, electronics, database, broadcast frequencies, sensor capabilities… That would be worth losing like half the fleet to pull off and bring all that data back to earth. But nope, too complicated, blow it up and go back to what the author finds interesting.
The characters are all written as stock scifi space opera/space adventure characters, instead of like actual people. Which is a pity because there was some good characterization at the start for the captain and the first officer. Lots of wasted potential there. Much like Empire of Black and Gold was a poor shadowy imitation of Elantris, this book is a really poor imitation of In Death’s Ground by David Weber and Steve White. Almost the exact same plot, with very similar FTL physics and basic ideas, but without any of the stuff that made In Death’s Ground good.
Okay, another gripe. The characters move from speculation to taking things as fact pretty much at the drop of a hat. Some of them talking about why they may have taken the humans from the first place they attacked. Maybe they wanted to do horrible experiments on them! Humans have done horrible things to each other, and aliens have got to be worse! Then, a few chapters later, we get the marines basically thinking that as fact when they are rescuing prisoners. That they had to get these prisoners back to the ship because the aliens have been doing horrible experiments on them. Next chapter the doctor examining says that the prisoners were drugged to keep them docile, but other then that the only things she can find were the aliens had taken small skin and blood samples. The reaction of one of the marines? and I quote: “Anyone they killed might have been forgotten,” Ted commented. Drugged as they were, the prisoners might not have noticed if they’d lost friends or family to the aliens. “Or simply held at another compound”. /endquote. Yeah, so from speculation, to assumed fact, to defending it against evidence. This happens several times in the story. For no particular reason. Just mixing character dialogue, character thoughts, and the story simply telling the reader things through bad writing of various perspectives.
Tiny nitpick. The aliens have plasma weapons that all the humans keep mentioning never need to worry about ammo. I’m pretty sure that’s not how plasma weapons work. I mean, not that I’ve actually built one or anything, but plasma is basically superheated (this is really simplified) gas that is ejected in the direction of the attack. It isn’t a pure energy thing like a laser would be. Of course, even a laser will wear out and/or overheat. Space is horrible for venting heat into so space-lasers would be tricky on fighter-sized spaceships. Still, I’m pretty sure that plasma weapons will actually need ammo. Of some sort. If it was an atmosphere it could just suck in some air and use that, but can’t really do that in space.
aaand, the 76% point is where I finally gave up. I wanted to see how this one ended, but that was the point where I decided that slogging through the increasingly dull prose just was too boring. The breaking point was when the captain, out of nowhere, feels this sympathy for a alien ship that is falling apart. Because all spacers are brothers, but do the aliens even have that concept? Oh well, back to killing them. It’s utterly weird because this is the first time he’s even hinted that he is that kind of character. It’s so out of left field I just did the metaphorical hand-clap and “I’m out” and put the story down.
One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever ran across, about how to write science fiction in fact, is ‘ask the next question’. When you are thinking up stuff for your book, events or characters or whatever. Ask ‘why does this happen?’ or ‘what does this extrapolate out to?’, and then you do it again, and again. When you think you are done, you, well, ‘ask the next question’ one more time. I’m mangling this horribly, I know, but hopefully it gets the point across. Good writing, especially science fiction and the more worldbuildy-based fantasy, has to be thought out. You need to roll the ideas and timeline forward and back in your head. Figure out how each moment in the story, each character, connects to the past and the future. Where things come from and where things are going. Most of which shouldn’t end up in the story or it will become a bloated mess, but the author needs to know this stuff.
Yeah, this is another pretty much pure rant post. I write these longer rants because sometimes I can’t stop noticing this stuff and it rolls around in my head until I vent it somewhere. Pony fan fiction is often bad, but in general it’s never dull to this extent. It is good, or bad, or poorly thought out, but the average fanfic has better logic and thought in it than this. I would literally suggest reading one of the less good Dangerous Game Contest stories over this. It was short, had a much better idea at the core, and was not bland. Bad, yes, but not bland. And did I mention short? So my recommendation for this book is go read Omega-7 by KaBar41 instead. Neither are good, but the pony fanfic is more interesting and shorter.