Here’s one for the shelf of “Books I Bought For the Sweet Cover”. Unfortunately, I have to judge this one another dud.
The first chapter was pretty good. We’re introduced to Andrew Grayson, a young man who’s just successfully enlisted in military service as a way to better his lot in a depressing near-future dominated by welfare project housing, high crime, and protein paste rations. Grayson comes across as a bit of an arrogant lad, but he’s kind to his mom and ambitious.
Then he ships out to boot camp and never thinks about his mom again, leaving him as an obnoxiously arrogant, surprisingly empty-headed, and thoroughly bland protagonist. His adventures in boot camp are strictly boiler-plate–a couple comrades with funny hat characterization, a couple tough drill sergeants, a little “this is my rifle, this is my gun” indoctrination adds up to a training montage without any originality or science fictional pizzazz to speak of. Grayson picks up the basics, but loses any semblance of being a thinking individual–he actually mentions to the reader that he’s happy with the way the military takes independent thought out of his life. That might be a true reflection on military discipline, but it makes an already generic protagonist into a complete zero. It doesn’t help that he narrates first-person.
Plus, the author depicts a fully mixed-sex infantry, and has a female soldier cranks out more push-ups than all the men in her platoon on day one. The Plausibility Express promptly wheezes to a halt.
The novel spends the rest of its 350 pages desperately avoiding a plot whenever one threatens to rear its head, then ends just as an actual interesting series of events starts to develop. Its only real science fictional ideas are tropes, without any sense of exoticism, window-dressing, or the fantastic. Some of the battle scenes are decently assembled, but I found the military cliches–whole-heartedly swallowed by both the protagonist and everyone around him–to be wearisome. Maybe the problem is me. I’m never been a military guy, and descriptions of military life without any insight or color aren’t particularly involving for me.
I actually hadn’t realized how much I disliked this book until I sat down to write about it. The only thing that really kept me going was that the prose is quite smooth: unremarkable, but completely readable. There was no particular moment when the book became clearly abysmal, either. Its just an exercise in mediocrity from about page 10 through to THE END.
I award it two hand grenades out of five, for tight prose in service to a very dull story.