Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review::Battleframe:the Mindwars by Michael Gilmour

Battleframe: The Mindwars, Book 1Battleframe: The Mindwars, Book 1 by Michael Gilmour

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Battleframe: The Mindwars(Volume 1)by Michael Gilmour

This is another to add to my love to hate list. I wanted to really love this one; and it could have worked even with the rough start; unfortunately most of the problems that started in the first half were perpetuated through to the end. This is a good book with a great story and it should be four star read; but in the same token I'd have to stretch to do that; because there are style choices that interfere with character development.It's a debut of a new author so there is that to consider, and as is often the case style issues can appear to become exaggerated from inexperience in writing fiction. This can blindside some readers and perhaps in this case, because I like my stories to have good character development, it colors my perception. I think that a discerning reader will have to read this novel to make their own judgement.

The book starts with two separate stories that will inevitably meet and it employs something I've recently seen in a lot of other fiction; which is the omniscient seeming beings that meddle everywhere, but seem to be constrained from changing certain things. They show up throughout and serve mostly to distract in my opinion. The second story is that of two young boys who survive an alien invasion. These boys train to become warriors fighting those aliens using newly invented technology that might have been augmented by one of the mysterious omniscient ones from the prologue. The problem is that their story comprises about half the book and it turns out to be a deceit, which may be a determining part of the writers decision to use a specific style of writing to pull off this deceit. The author chose to write this part in omniscient third person. That's not such a bad decisions for pulling off this type of deceit because maintaining the deceit requires that the reader not get too much information from the characters head. What I mean by that is that if the reader were to be constantly close to the inside of the characters head there would have to be some obviously non-congruent thoughts; or the character's thoughts would have to be naturally deceitful, which then creates an unreliable narrator situation.

Unfortunately this point of view lends itself to the possibility of abuse and that seems to happen a lot in the first half of this novel. What I mean by that, is that; when in this point of view, it becomes easier to be tempted to use the narrator to dig into the surface thoughts of the characters and guide the reader to character motives in a seemingly capricious manner. But not just that, it also becomes easy to fall into the bad habit of digging into snippets of thoughts from all the characters all at once. And that occurs often in this novel to the tune of switching heads three or four times on the same page. What this does is create an impression of confusion and false impression of too much information; while at the same time preventing the reader from getting acquainted with any one character. But in this case the author is trying to prevent connection to the reader, because he doesn't want certain information to leak out just yet. The problem with all of that is that the deception becomes painfully obvious partially because of this point of view. I say painfully because I found myself so hoping that I was wrong about where this was going; because it did not bode well for my preferences in reading. Add to this deception the anomaly of flash backs that create back-story for the two characters, to fill in what has happened to get them to this point, and then when reaching the reveal the reader begins to wonder what purpose that back-story served.

What the story does have going for it is some interesting blend of various ideas. We have nano-tech that seems to be used both to augment biology and create somewhat unique battle armor for the characters to use in their fight against a relentless enemy( an enemy that apparently view them both as vermin to be exterminated and a possible source of food). The plot is a simple one of perseverance to survive and remain free. The main characters use the tech to fight and there is an added feature that allows the wearer to be whisked away from the battle in some instances; when they are incapacitated (through some sort of tele-porting that is so painful it is the last resort kind of thing the soldier wants to do and may even border on a fate worse than death or at least close to it). There are many more wonders of science in use in this world and oddly enough most of the tech part of the story survives after the deception is revealed.

Eventually the deception falls apart and what I most feared is true, but the upside is that this could mean that we now will be able to alter the point of view a bit and begin learning some things about these characters and why I should care about them. But first: as it falls apart we find out that our heroes have sons; but the back-story hasn't gotten even remotely near to how that might have occurred and as a reader I'm now tempted to want to know (more back-story please), but at the same time-things fall apart and I suddenly realize it might not be relevant.

I've seen the type of deception that we have here work in other novels. Many of Philip K. Dick's better pieces had stuff like this. But there's a way of crafting the deception that doesn't work here; because I get the impression that through all of this our main characters already were fully aware of at least one level of the deception(there are several levels here), which was why we had to be kept at a distance from their thoughts. The biggest problem in this novel is that we're dragged through the deception for half the novel, which means that we have to stay distanced from those thoughts for that half. Now with that out of the way there's room to redeem the narrative, but the writer seems to chose to remain remote. This created a few problems for me.

One oddity here is that I was just getting used to the writers use of third omniscience just as the story took this wide left turn to reveal the deception. A deception I had early on detected and had hoped, now that we were half way into the book, that I had been wrong about. The reader is quickly dropped into a new plot that seems to be a blend of the movie The Last Starfighter and Orson Scott Card's Ender series. I was hoping that now I'd get a look at the true character of the people behind the facade, unfortunately we are led to believe that, though there was a deception, we have to rely on the previous character development for any understanding of these characters and for me that was a problem, because I saw scant development of characters up to this point; so in many ways I had no idea what to expect of them. Yet from all of that previous deception we're supposed to believe that they would make the decisions they make; which are more suited to the plot than to the character abilities and motives: of which we really have little evidence.

At the same time according to our ever-present yet nearly invisible omniscient meddlers; these may be the ones that they have waited 50 thousand years for. They are the ones; the chosen; and in some ways we start sounding a lot like the original Star Wars, which is interesting since later there will be a tense scene that almost mirrors the destruction of the planet killing battle-star from the first movie. And many times this novel feels more like a movie than a book. By that I mean that we have the camera zooming all around and stopping now an then for a closeup of some faces. We get entire paragraphs of descriptions that look like a still photo; yet only a few lines now and then from out of someones head that tease us. And there was even one anomalous occasion where for some reason the narrator dropped to second person almost as though we were reading a manual.

The action is good and there is an element of suspense where there are some mysteries that occasionally crop up that make you wonder where things are going. There are some neat notions that seem to be extrapolations of things already examined in other novels. I found all of that to be well built with it's own defined rules and caveats, yet once again it's not enough to carry the story for me because I'm a character driven story lover. These characters were less the drivers and more the driven.

The good news is that most if not all the technology and world building stays intact despite the deception and for the most part continues to be consistent; though when our heroic chosen arrive to the final battle there are some developments that take us close to that chasm of Deus Ex Machina. But there will be sacrifices and lives will be lost; so they are not all that powerful: yet. Still there is a point that the story reaches that gave me strong impressions of the influence of the last few books of E.E. Doc Smith Skylark series; where some of the characters obtain some awesome mental powers. And the reader needs to read this to see what I mean.

Still this is not a book that gives you growth of character or a visible change through the journey of the story. It is difficult to reconcile the decisions made in the second half with the characters making those decisions and most assuredly those decision don't appear to reflect any growth or such in the characters. This has a great many notions and bits of technology that are of interest to those who like the world building. Yet even though the reader gets some close looks at the enemy there is little if any development of their motive other than that they react in fear and command by fear and intimidation.

I liked the ideas and the tech and they manage to stay consistent up until a certain point. But to be honest to discuss further my thoughts would likely be delving into some spoilers. I will be watching for more in this series from Michael Gilmour in the hope that, as his writing matures, his interest in developing characters will mature. This is good science fiction for those who like the technical end of the fiction without too much emphasis on the Simon Pure part of that. With a little more attention to balance in the writing, there is potential for greatness.

J.L. Dobias

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