Jacob's Log by Robert Neal Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Jacob's Log by Robert Neal Johnson
This is about a novella size story that serves as a good way to get to know a new writer. It's a good effort that had for me a few road bumps along the way that were never enough to really spoil the story. I do feel that in a way the story gets shortchanged by being so short. There are a lot of ideas presented here and much great potential for the characters. Also many great moments of suspense and mystery as the main character draws closer to understanding the truth and I think that they all lead to a bit of slight disappointment perhaps because of the limited size of the story. Many times I felt as a reader I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, which never did because there is no other shoe. This was disappointing, but it was how the author chose to write the story and he still does tell a great story.
The story starts out as a story told from Gabriel's and Sarah's point of view. It quickly digresses into being mostly Gabrial's POV and then a lot of log files from Jacob's Log. I feel that Sarah gets short changed here in character development and perhaps again if this were a longer piece more time could be spent. In first books there is always the possibility of overdoing the world-building and back-story and trying to find the right balance in the method of delivery. Along with that sometimes there's an overt attempt to make the story as Simon pure science as one can get and that often eclipses the development of the characters. With these two potential road-bumps and the shortness of the story there are a lot of strange holes in the story. Having the suspense and mystery add to that mix as one of the lead causes for the author to run astray. Sometimes trying to not say something can spoil things in the way the author tries not to say it.
One thing that was annoying for me was the reference to weapons as number 7 rifles and number 5 rifles, which although seem to exist if I want to refresh my memory about them they really leave me,as a reader, a bit flat and I'd like a better description or name; but that's just me. Add to this that for some weird reason everyone initially is refereed to with a number letter designator until they do a sort of rite of passage name choice ceremony and this creates a sort of distancing in the writing that really makes it difficult to differentiate the characters and sympathize with them. In my version there are no scene change indicators and it is very difficult to catch all the scene changes when they happen, which caused some confusion to the readability for me.
It becomes clear early on: the story is more important than the characters or the science in this novella. The problem with that is that the attempt of keeping certain things from the reader make it difficult to follow the story and though it has a clear ending it's not clear that the reader gets a valid explanation for everything.
By that I mean that an apparently superior intelligence has contacted Earth warning of a catastrophe; but the people on board the ship don't know this and the reader finds out as they do. They aren't told any of it when they go to the planet and it's not until one of them dies on the planet that the reader gets a clue and then there is a bit of hand-waving about why everyone has been kept in the dark. But this message received has led to the creation, by some intelligent design, of a ship that will have an seemingly endless supply of material to create cloned-life and food and some form of glider craft that will take them to the planet by twos. In a way we have the true 'mother' ship, which is one of many things whose potential is overlooked in the development of the story.
Another thing that has been kept from them is that they are on this new planet possibly to rendezvous with someone or thing possibly the superior intellect that has helped them. Having gotten to the planet they keep crashing over and over because communications is not working and the mother ship sends out parties at a specific rate and no one can warn the next flight about the storm like spots that everyone seems to naturally gravitate toward, so people keep crashing. The gliders are intact enough that they could scavenge them; but they don't. There seems to be no provision made for illnesses so some have died from infections and possible viruses. They have some definite challenges.
Still, the novella is interesting enough to keep the reader's attention and I read this one straight through. It has a lot of good mystery; a tiny bit of suspense; and some science that makes sense and a well thought out plot. I had issues with the execution in that the science makes sense but the lack of planning and common sense don't and that lack is not well explained. The mystery and suspense are more for keeping the reader in the dark than they are for plot elements and so the reader expectation is deflated when you reach many of the reveals.
The whole superior intellect thread creates the largest expectation of waiting for some masterful shoe to drop which never really does and leave the reader with a notion that there has to be more to this story even though it does have a satisfactory ending that makes perfect sense to a resolution to the plot point of the story once the reader figures that out.
I could give this higher marks if some of the notions and potential subplots had been examined a little more closely and expanded upon and if more of the characters could be brought to life. It does serve as an entertaining read for those who like SFF that examine the notion of seeding other planets in the universe.
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