Friday, 10 June 2016

Grog Opera - two reviews

Or, as I referred to them in the heat of the moment, "clunk" and "thud".

Whilst on holiday, I naturally did some reading.  The weather is never perpetually perfect, and there is always that "rainy day in the cabin" where one has to entertain oneself.  Even more predictable is three hours in an airport between flights. And, then, of course, the actual five hours in the air being shipped like livestock before animal cruelty laws appeared where you have to read or go mad.

Out came my iPhone.  I had recently downloaded a free sample pack of new-ish authors and their military SF works.  I looked at the menu with keen anticipation.

I started with "Warship (Black Fleet Trilogy 1)" by Joshua Dalzelle.  I can't go into elaborate analysis of the plot because I couldn't finish it.  I actually gave it more of my life than I should have, but I was loathe to give up too soon.  I only had a finite number of titles to last me the trip.

The term "space opera" was born from "horse opera".  Horse opera was a derogatory label for flat, cliche stories set in the wild west era.  Space opera means pretty much the same thing, especially when early hack writers reused identical plots from a western, with cheap substitutions of "blaster" for "six-gun”, to name one example. (recent years have tried to reinvent space opera into a more positive frame - but that's another blog entry).  There needs to be a sub-category for hackneyed plots splashing out of the wet navies of Earth.  Where starships in future settings are directly lifted out of the waves and set in space.  "Fathom Opera"?  "Splish Splash Opera"?  "Grog Opera"?  Poseidon knows there are enough of these writers out there busily pasting goofy space jargon over stories pilfered straight from Earth's Age of Sail or World War II or another other time of yo-ho-ho.

Mr. Dazelle hangs lampshades at a frenetic pace to smooth over why a starship centuries from now resembles a modern-ish submarine.  It's a "forgotten tradition" why designers still put a conning tower on their ships.  The thing is armoured like a bank vault.  The crew is numerous and the lower decks are packed.  And so forth and so on.  It gets thoroughly tedious, like all “grog opera" stories.

(interjection:  Is "Star Trek" grog opera?  I don't think so, but that's yet another post)

Beyond the grog opera complaint, the characterization is stiff and clumsy.  Character actions and reactions are obscure in their motivations, though perhaps a few would eventually be explained if I had made it thru to the end.  In general, the clanking of the plot banged too off-key and I decided to go overboard. 

Sorry, Joshua.

I took in a breath shared and recirculated by several hundred other passengers.  Boredom and misery forced me to seek out a new book faster than I usually would. 

"King of Thieves" by Evan Currie.  His credits listed a trilogy or two revolving around an individual warship, but this novel looked to be an entirely new venture.  Let's go!

And I didn't even make it five pages.  I even double-checked to make sure it wasn't written by Joshua, the similarity hit me so hard.  The whiff of grog opera was distinct.  The story was hip-deep in the author's established universe.  I couldn't take that one-two combination.  A disservice to Mr. Currie, I know.  He might have been able to make it interesting, despite my unfamiliarity with his world setting.  It might have risen above mere grog opera, but I just knew I wasn't ready to chew thru this hard tack again.

And, therefore, sorry to Evan.

Simon White asked me to beta-read his novel "Age of Flight".  Third time proved to be a charm of sorts.  300 pages later…but, for the third time, that would be a blog for another day.

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