This book was technically quite good. If you asked me what was wrong with it, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. If you asked me what I didn’t like about it… Well, it’s quite a list.
It has to be said that this is not my type of book. I read to experience, in some way, the enormity of human emotion and experience. I want to feel with the characters, to empathise with them, to see what we, as people, are capable of in our reactions.
Thus, the distinct lack of connection I felt for pretty much every character in this book, and the almost… clinical way in which the narrative affected me made this book hard to finish. To be honest, I wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t been reading for review.
It’s very well made. It’s just not in any way shape or form made for me.
Star rating: 2/5 stars
The last act almost dragged it up to three stars. But given that I can’t see myself ever picking up this book again, I’m going to stick with two.
John Perry signs up for the army of his 75th birthday. The colonial defence forces (CDF) to be precise. Humankind has been migrating into the outer reaches for some time now, and the colonists need someone to protect them. These forces are made up only of those who have reached the age of 75. While it’s not a confirmed fact, most of those who sign up believe that the CDF will rejuvenate them in some way – make them young so they’re able to fight again. Otherwise, why else would you bother hiring the elderly?
The CDF doesn’t just rejuvenate the recruit’s bodies though. It takes their DNA, meshes it with some new improvements to make the recruits halfway superhuman, and then transplants their conscious into this new body, ready to serve and defend.
And so John Perry serves and defends.
Things I liked:
This is primarily an ideas book, and there were some interesting concepts in there. The author seemed to be very interested by the logistics of space travel – how to create gravity fields, space elevators, ect. There were several ideas I found more interesting than others. Without giving too much away – the ghost brigades, the cultures of some of the aliens (the Consu in particular) and some of the modifications made to the new bodies (skin that incorporates chlorophyll into the design, more efficient blood ect)
- The Ending
The concepts introduced at the end of the book, and the examination of the psychological effects of these concepts are by far the most interesting thing in this book. It’s hard to say much without giving a few things away, but let it be said that I found the characters introduced in the later half of the book much more interesting than those introduced in the first half of the book
Things I didn’t like:
Episodic is one way to describe the pacing in this book. The episodes vary in length, and the first “episode” is a good 7 chapters so you don’t realise it’s going to be an episodic story until it actually is. There was no… I mean, the plot was basically “John Perry signs up for war, gets use to his new body, goes from training, to battle, to battle, looses a terrible battle, and has some idea about how to re-win the terrible battle, start third act.” There’s no continual antagonist, no overarching through-line. It was very easy to put down because of this.
I’m not sure if it was how they were presented, but I didn’t connect with a singular character until the later half of the book. I wasn’t even sure why I was reading at times – they all felt like talking heads. All these names and I didn’t really care about any of them.
- Clinical Mode of Telling
I felt like the narrator wasn’t quite connected to events. I suspect it had to do with my expectation of first person and the way the author handled it. Again, nothing technically wrong with it, just not something that worked for me.
- “I’m a physics teacher, let me explain”
This one almost prompted me to put the book down at the end of chapter two. The first chapter was interesting – exposition worked into the back and forth of the conversation going on, some emotional tension that came with John signing up for the CDF without his wife… lots of stuff that interested me.
For the next three chapters the character had cups of tea, met a round of people who appeared for one moment to disappear the next, and had the physics of space elevators and artificial gravity explained to him. I understand why it was explained – it proved the author knew what he was on about, which in turn created a level of realism that made the major plot point (them getting new bodies) plausible.
I just wish they hadn’t spent 60 pages on it. It was literally page 76 before I felt the story actually started.
- The Old Farts Club
John meets a selection of people while he is assessed before his “refit”, and during basic training in his new body. The issue I had with this selection of people (there were 6 or 7 of them), was that they were all named characters, and they all felt as if they should have been important, but I just didn’t care about them. I could barely keep who was who straight in the conversations they had together. Just… too many names, not enough time to establish a connection with each of them. It made the section of the book where a lot of them died feel… the pay-off wasn’t what it should have been, let’s put it that way.
This book wasn’t terrible by any standards. It was just very much not my type of book, and while I can see the reasoning behind some of the author’s decisions (though not all, I’m still not sure what the point of all the named characters that I never really cared about was), it’s not something I look for in a book. It’s an ideas book, and the exploration of those ideas was interesting, but I felt largely like I was reading half a research paper and half an episodic thesis. The third act rescued the book somewhat, but the lack of through-line in the build up to that third act meant that it couldn’t actually do much in the way of rescuing.
So yes, two stars.
Feel free to disagree, btw. I’m almost positive that there’s more than a few people who will get a lot more from this book than I did 🙂 I recommend a trip to the library if it sounds like your thing.