Monday, September 5, 2011

One Jump Ahead by Mark L. Van Name

So how about a book review for a change? Anyway, finally posting this..I finished the book back in June and quickly jotted some notes in Wordpad, and then I went to Europe for several weeks and the file languished on my computer..and then I came back and life happened. But anyway. Here finally is my review of One Jump Ahead.

I got it as part of a volume called Jump Gate Twist, which also includes the short story "My Sister, My Self" and the sequel Slanted Jack. I had to return the book before being able to read either of those two, so I may come back to them again later.

It's a far future novel about a mercenary who gets himself in deeper and deeper trouble until, with the help of an (almost unbelievably) unlikely coalition of allies, he manages to fight his way out of his problems. Nonviolently. Yes, our mercenary hero is a devoted pacifist who goes out of his way to trank rather than maim/kill his enemies. I'm not making fun of nonviolence - it's one of my own core values - but the way it plays out seems almost farcical in this novel. It's like the author wanted to write about a mercenary, but couldn't quite make all the violence that would entail mesh with his own value system, so he created this pacifist mercenary to pacify his own conscience. And what happens is that it allows the enlightened violence-disapproving reader to feel ok about reading a book that essentially showcases (watered down) violence as a way of achieving one's aims. Not what the author really wanted, I think.

This mercenary, Jon, is also possessed of magical nanomachines. They're not really magical, supposedly, but I say that because they can do pretty much anything, and Jon can control them on a whim. He usually uses them to heal himself, to create diversions and to melt people's heads (because when confronted with the choice between winning and sticking to his principles, he chooses winning).

Dang, none of this hardcore criticism was in my notes. I am not usually like this either. This book must have touched a nerve!

So anyway, I thought the nanomachines were an interesting idea, but kind of blandly executed. There needed to be more rules, limitations and details regarding how they were used. After the first time that Jon magically got himself out of a tricky situation by calling up the nanomachines and melting someone's head, it got kind of boring since I figured basically he could get out of anything.

My favorite character was Lobo, which was some kind of artificially intelligent, talking armored space-warship type thing. He had much more personality than Jon, who seemed more like a machine than a person. The short story in the volume was about Jon as a teen, and it would have been nice to read that and see what he was like when younger, before the nanomachines and also different in another way I shall not reveal ;)

There were some author's notes at the end of the novel, and usually I like reading those and finding out how the author wrote the book, but this one was rather boring. I would have liked to know more about his inspiration and how he planned the novel, not how he sold it to publishers.

I did, however, like the ending - at least I did back when I read it, who knows if this sudden hypercritical me would have been moved by it. At the time, in spite of Jon's magic-plot-device nanomachines and willingness to bend his principles, I had come to care about him a bit since he did seem to care about doing the right thing and was apparently trying his best to get over a difficult past and find a better life. So this ending brought tears to my eyes, because I hoped that he would indeed find brightness.

"In that perfect black I could see a dark and dangerous universe, but I could also see worlds yet to form, an unwritten future waiting for me to fill it with the bright colors of days to come.
In that moment, I hoped for brightness.
We jumped."

Good endings are hard to write, but I feel Mr. van Name nailed it with this one.

Next review: Tuomas Karhumieli by Ritva Toivola

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