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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.

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( 8 comments )
stuckintraffik
May. 29th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
Oh John Ringo No?
wombat_socho
May. 29th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)
Different issue from a different series, one I haven't read.
stuckintraffik
May. 29th, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC)
Jo had just pointed me to the original, couldn't resist asking...
wombat_socho
May. 29th, 2008 06:23 pm (UTC)
The joke has apparently come full circle (pardon the expression) since one of Ringo's fans has done a suitable graphic and is now selling T-shirts, thongs and other apparel through Cafe Press with proceeds going to an appropriate charity. Appropriate to the subject matter of the derided books, probably not to those doing the deriding.

Edited at 2008-05-29 06:24 pm (UTC)
rodney_g_graves
Aug. 6th, 2008 03:15 pm (UTC)
John's Muse made him do it
John is something of a character. And when it comes to his writing, his muse is a dominatrix.

As he tells it, "Bandit Six" and his muse seized him and wouldn't let him do anything else until he'd finished "The Last Centurion" (rather as it did with "Ghost," which he referred to as "the wanker piece" until Jim Baen asked to buy it).

Yes, it's first person.

Yes, it's expository.

No, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

No, the President is not modeled on HRC, but rather on Nancy Pelosi.

You seem to have missed the other major sub-plot of the novel, which was the (calculated) final destruction of MSM credibility.

Our mileages seem to have differed.
wombat_socho
Aug. 6th, 2008 09:35 pm (UTC)
Re: John's Muse made him do it
No, the President is not modeled on HRC, but rather on Nancy Pelosi.
I see the difference between the two of them as one of degree rather than type, but whatever. It really doesn't affect the plot.

You seem to have missed the other major sub-plot of the novel, which was the (calculated) final destruction of MSM credibility.
The MSM has credibility? Seriously, though, I hardly even noticed that subplot existed because it was of a piece with the way most troops (including, obviously, Ringo) feel about the media.

Our mileages seem to have differed.
Well, yeah.

I don't pretend to be as familiar with John Ringo, his works, and the process behind their production as other folks may be. That having been said, if this was something he wrote just to get it out of his system, then maybe it would have been better off buried. Or left to simmer until the characters were better developed, maybe. I'm not going to tell you you're a moron for liking the book. If you enjoyed it, then good for you. I did this review since people on my f-list know I'm fond of JR's Posleen War novels (with one glaring exception), might reasonably think I'd have an opinion on this non-Posleen War novel, and there it is.
rodney_g_graves
Aug. 6th, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC)
Re: John's Muse made him do it
wombat_socho replied:

I see the difference between the two of them [HRC, posited as The President, NP who the President was actually based on] as one of degree rather than type, but whatever. It really doesn't affect the plot.


I didn't notice you actually addressed the plot (mostly sections 2 and 3) of the book... You know, the recreation of Xenophon's march to the sea in Part 2, and then the cleanup back home in Part 3?

The MSM has credibility? Seriously, though, I hardly even noticed that subplot existed because it was of a piece with the way most troops (including, obviously, Ringo) feel about the media.


Yes, the MSM does have credibility. No, not with the folks who have been there and done that. What you missed was "Bandit Six" leveraging his earlier success on his march to the sea to anticipate and thoroughly discredit the MSM reporting of his mission to retake Detroit.

That was significant.

...if this was something he wrote just to get it out of his system, then maybe it would have been better off buried. Or left to simmer until the characters were better developed, maybe.


Novels written effectively on the first person tend to be less generous to the supporting characters in terms of their development, since we don't get to see through their eyes. Nature of the beast.

I'm not going to tell you you're a moron for liking the book. If you enjoyed it, then good for you. I did this review since people on my f-list know I'm fond of JR's Posleen War novels (with one glaring exception), might reasonably think I'd have an opinion on this non-Posleen War novel, and there it is.


Understood. I didn't much care for "Cally's War" either...
wombat_socho
Aug. 6th, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
Re: John's Muse made him do it
I didn't notice you actually addressed the plot (mostly sections 2 and 3) of the book... You know, the recreation of Xenophon's march to the sea in Part 2, and then the cleanup back home in Part 3?

You missed paragraphs two and three of the original post, then.

"The MSM has credibility? Seriously, though, I hardly even noticed that subplot existed because it was of a piece with the way most troops (including, obviously, Ringo) feel about the media."
Yes, the MSM does have credibility. No, not with the folks who have been there and done that. What you missed was "Bandit Six" leveraging his earlier success on his march to the sea to anticipate and thoroughly discredit the MSM reporting of his mission to retake Detroit.
That was significant.

You saw it as significant. I saw it as part and parcel of the third part of the book, the effort to keep CONUS from going down the tubes.


Novels written effectively on the first person tend to be less generous to the supporting characters in terms of their development, since we don't get to see through their eyes. Nature of the beast.
True.

"I'm not going to tell you you're a moron for liking the book. If you enjoyed it, then good for you. I did this review since people on my f-list know I'm fond of JR's Posleen War novels (with one glaring exception), might reasonably think I'd have an opinion on this non-Posleen War novel, and there it is."
Understood. I didn't much care for "Cally's War" either...

Actually, I was thinking of Watch on the Rhine. Cally's War isn't as good as its sequel - hopefully I can add an "s" to that later this year - but I liked it better than WotR.
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