Thursday, November 6, 2014

Force Cantrithor, by Michael McCloskey

This week I'm reviewing an e-book that I picked up quite a while back because of an extensive advertising campaign when it was first released. Seriously, the ads were everywhere I looked on the internet (Hooray google targeted ads!) and when I finally read the summary it definitely looked interesting. So I thought what the heck and added it to my to-be-read list where it sat until I finally downloaded it. I just want to explain why I picked this book up before I go into my review, because it's not great. Don't get me wrong, it's nowhere as bad as certain other books I've read, but it's just not terribly interesting.

This book's summary and cover are what really drew me in. As my readers are no doubt aware, I'm a huge sucker for pulp science-fiction. The overall plot is that humanity is engaged in what is now a decade-long war with the Vothriles, an insectoid predator species. Humanity's greatest defense in this war are emmers like Emil, people capable of manipulating electromagnetic fields and who can cloak Terran warships against Vothrile sensors, break through Vothrile cloaking fields, and in some cases destroy enemy ships with a surge of power. However, a mysterious and highly powerful enemy, known only as Force Cantrithor, has forced these bitter enemies to work together for their own survival. Although the idea of two rivals teaming up against a new threat is as old as the hills, there's at least enough potential with new areas for the story to take its own direction.

My biggest issue with this book was that the plot seemed kind of disjointed throughout the book. Now, as the main character Emil is suffering from hallucinations and has trouble telling what's real or not, this could have been used as a legitimate way to tell the story. However, I feel like this simply doesn't work because Emil is “present” for the entire plot and we never really have reason to believe anything he sees, outside of the dream sequences that are definitely dream sequences, isn't real. As an emmer, Emil has the ability to see everything happening inside the ship he's stationed on, as well as detect a large number of things happening in surrounding space as well. Furthermore, everyone has a chip installed that allows them to access digital information with just their bodies and most meetings occur in cyberspace. Because this is another form of electromagnetic field, it means Emil can eavesdrop on even the most secret of conferences held by the admirals. Heck, Emil can even read people's minds in some cases simply by the electronic fields their nervous systems give off. So I wasn't left feeling like Emil was suffering from information overload or was otherwise losing a grip on reality because of his abilities, it just felt like there were these weird lurches in the plot as it stumbled forwards.

Another issue I had with this book was I really wasn't invested in any of the characters, which left me a little surprised that I managed to get through the entire book. Emil, specifically, doesn't have terribly much in terms of personality going on. He doesn't really have any desires or aspirations beyond just wanting the war to end so everyone will be safe and he won't be under constant strain anymore. I feel like this was intentional on the part of the author to further try and highlight how different Emil was from all the other members of the crew, but it doesn't really work because the rest of the crew are pretty flat as well. Samuelsson, the captain, feels guilty about the lives in the fleet he has to sacrifice for victory, but that's about it. Cain, the executive officer, hates the Vothriles, but that's about it. Lokan, the ship's psychologist, is kind of suspicious, but that's about it. There are only a handful of other characters that are given names and the barest hint of a personality, the rest are really just extras in the story. If the other characters had been better developed then the differences between them and Emil may have been much more pronounced and noticeable, but because they're little more than line drawings Emil's flatness as a character fails to impress itself on the reader.

I think the reason I was able to get through this book was that it was relatively short and not terribly difficult to read. If I had gotten frustrated or angry over it, I may have given up on the project entirely. But quite frankly I think the cardinal sin of this book is that it's boring more than anything else. There was a lot of potential and ideas there, but they just don't get developed. Can the humans trust an enemy that now wants to cooperate? How do we know what's real if virtual reality is a constant part of our world? Is the sacrifice of a few lives worth victory in a war that will save potentially millions? For whatever reason none of these are capitalized upon and the result is a very sleepy read that leaves an impression of “meh”. Perhaps other works from this author will be improved, but you're not missing anything if you pass it by.

- Kalpar

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