jueves, 19 de febrero de 2015

Impulse, by Dave Bara


(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)

Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Raspberry Jam Delta-V, by Joe Satriani (Spotify, Youtube).

My favorite literary genre is, hands down, science fiction. However, when all is accounted for, I reckon that I end up reading more fantasy than any other thing. It is one of the more popular genres nowadays and there are so many new releases that it is easy to just go with the flow and spend most of the time reading them. Thus, this year I've made an informal resolution to actively seek out for new science fiction novels and authors, especially if big spaceships are involved. 

Impulse, by Dave Bara, is one of such books and, even if I found the cover of the UK edition quite appalling (the American one, by Stephan Martiniere, is just excellent, though), I decided to give it a try when I read several positive reviews on different blogs and online forums. I must say that, although I don't regret my decision, I can't help feeling a bit underwhelmed by what I found.

The story is entertaining enough, but a bit simplistic. I especially liked the blend of military science fiction with space opera, something that is more evident in the last third of the novel. The world-building is not especially original, but it is intriguing enough, with conflicts between different factions and their political agendas, lost empires, ancient artifacts and forgotten races. The plot, however, is quite straightforward and a bit naive, more similar to a Star Trek movie than to a New Space Opera novel. If you are looking for something in the vein of Banks, Hamilton, Asher or Reynolds I think you are going to be disappointed.

The characterization is also simplistic, with an idealized vision of the military. The protagonists are always men and women of honor through and through and the main character, Peter Cochrane, is the sum of all virtues. He was meant to be a great soccer player and when he was forced to change his career for the navy he, of course, excelled also in that. He is good at fencing, at chess and at any other game. His intuition is almost always right and, that goes without saying, all the women fall for him just because. I am sorry, but this is a kind of character that I don't buy anymore.  

All this could be forgivable, but what really disliked is that the novel has many inconsistencies and errors. Some of them are annoying but trivial. For instance, one character is first described as being "five-foot-seven" and, later, "barely five-foot-five" and there is a clear misunderstanding on how the chess pieces are valued (without taking into account the position, a rook is worth a bishop and TWO pawns, Mr. Bara). Other details are just unacceptable in a serious science fiction story. Some easy calculations show that the ships must sustain hundreds (if not thousands) of gees of acceleration during an extended period of time or to decelerate from almost half the speed of light to a stop in mere seconds. How that can be achieved without turning the crew into the proverbial raspberry jam is not considered of enough interest to be even acknowledged.

In fact, the space fight scenes stroke me as very unrealistic. On the one hand, the capabilities and limitations of the ship technologies are unclear and they are sometimes used as if they were magic. On the other, the abrupt changes of direction and swift turns of the ships, even if not considering the physical implausibilities mentioned above, make the battles seem more akin to something that could happen at sea that in the void of space. For instance, in certain occasions, the ships seem to need to have their impellers on whenever they want to move as if inertia was non-existent. I might be a little bit picky here, but I must say that these kinds of (important) details threw me out of the book again and again, especially given the high standards set by authors such as Alastair Reynolds or Charles Stross.

Also, some of the characters express ideologies that can be potentially offensive for some readers. I'm thinking of things like "It's no fun putting your life on the line with atheists in space", "Perhaps now isn't the time for diversity for diversity's sake" and others that, though not that abundant, are bound to be controversial.

For all these reasons, I can only recommend Impulse to those readers that prefer TV sci-fi over the dark, ambiguous and convoluted plots of the modern space opera, that are not annoyed by a not-rock-solid science in their science fiction and that are not easily offended by rough generalizations and stereotypes. It is not my case, however, and I probably won't be reading the next one in the series when it comes out.

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español

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