wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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It coulda been a contender.

I think I finally get what the critics are saying when they say a book or movie didn't live up to its potential. Sadly, this realization was triggered by John Ringo's The Last Centurion, which I finished Monday evening before crashing.

After reading the opening chapters of Yellow Eyes and the first part of The Last Centurion, I have to repent of my earlier harsh criticism of Mr. Kratman and admit that Watch on the Rhine wasn't all his fault after all. The online sample of Yellow Eyes is actually pretty good and free of the annoying polemics & gratuitous gore that ruined the first Kratman/Ringo collaboration, whereas the beginning of The Last Centurion is about as interesting (to me, at any rate) as reading one of the zillion blog posts by people who cannot stand the junior senator from New York and go on for paragraphs about how HRC is the second coming of Eleanor Roosevelt, only uglier and more thuggish. Still, since this was John Ringo, I skimmed through the polemic because I knew there was some quality combat SF in there somewhere.

Which there is; only problem is that there's only about 3-4 short chapters worth, and then we're back in CONUSstan where the Army does the best it can to save the country from mass starvation, economic collapse, and the kind of political coup both Reagan and W were accused of preparing. Needless to say, they do this in spite of the increasingly deranged President and apparently without much help from the Air Force, Navy or Marines. It reads like the bastard child of Atlas Shrugged and Gust Front, only without John Galt or the Posleen, and that is in no way a good thing, at least as it is done here. It was entertaining enough to hold my interest, but only barely. I suspect if I hadn't wasted a good part of my youth on things like After the Holocaust and Twilight:2000 the last part of the book would have been so damn boring I would have just given up.

Aside from the narrative, which has far too much exposition and not nearly enough dialogue (to say nothing of the totally annoying "Wife Edits") the book fails because there is just about zero characterization. Even the protagonist, Bandit Six, is little more than a character outline that could have come straight out of the Twilight:2000 base rules, and in some ways this hurts worst of all. IMAO, Ringo's great strength is being able to create characters one recognizes from one's own experience, give them enough exposure so you care about them, and giving them the opportunity to rise from ordinary men and women to Big Fucking Heroes before he kills them out of hand. He does a great job of handling ensemble casts, and the lack of one in this novel really cripples it. All we get are a loose collection of character sketches: the Richard Sharpe-like Bandit Six, the Sunni colonel who loses his tank brigade but goes on to save his country, the Nepalese contractor who molds his kitchen orderlies into an expedient Gurkha platoon...and that's pretty much it. Bandit Six is left to carry the plot alone, and it turns him into a talking head...and a boring one at that. This novel could quite easily have been a techno-thriller trilogy that blended Rainbow Six, Atlas Shrugged, and The Ten Thousand (Coyle, not Xenophon) into another awesome series of books, but as it is, it kinda sucks. Not recommended.
Tags: books

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