Zero-G

September 19, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

zeroZero-G by Rob Boffard

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I’ve gotten to where I’m leery of second books in trilogies. Lately, it seems like most of them aren’t really novels, so much as they are a bridge between a self-contained first novel and the conclusion to a larger story tangentially related to the first one. I think The Matrix set this trend, and going into Zero-G, I expected it to be the case with the Outer Earth series, too.

On the bright side, Boffard did a good job of creating a story that’s more-or-less self-contained. It has a distinctive beginning, middle, and end, but it also ends on an incomplete note, since this isn’t the whole story. The plot of Zero-G is about a group of rebels who plan to return to Earth from the space station where humanity has lived for the past 100 years. Riley, the main character from Tracer, the first book, is the main character here, too, and to complicate matters, Boffard includes an unhinged doctor who wants to take revenge on her and Okwembu, the councilperson whose plot from the first book killed a woman he was infatuated with. There’s also a third plot involving a sickness that overtakes Outer Earth, and all of it comes together in a gripping story that kept me reading.

(Spoilers ahead.)

Unfortunately, there are parts of the story that simply don’t make a lot of sense. In my review of Tracer, I wrote about how certain elements of a story are sacrificed for an action story, and those elements are missing from Zero-G, too. Characterization is weak, as is any connection to other characters in the novel. The sickness I mentioned above wipes out 90% of the population of Outer Earth, but we only know this because it’s mentioned in passing late in the novel. We see the effects of it here and there, but we’re never given the scale of it all until then, and the other characters don’t give the threat of it much concern, since it winds up they’re all immune to it. Later, a breach in the hull of Outer Earth presumably wipes out the rest of the population of the station, but the other characters treat it like it’s just any other day. There’s no real emotion or concern over the loss.

Also like TracerZero-G follows an odd structure where Boffard writes from multiple viewpoints in each chapter, though the lion’s share of them go to Riley. I’m fine with him doing that, but what makes it odd is that Riley’s chapters are written in the first person, and the other characters’ are written in third person. He also notes at the start of each chapter who the focus is, so I didn’t understand why he made that jump in voice. He could have made the entire book first person or third person and it would have been fine, but the alternating voices were jarring. Plus, as much as Riley narrates the story, it’s odd that he brought in the other characters at all. I can see why he did it — Boffard wanted to give additional perspectives to the story — but I think it would have been a stronger story had he limited the perspective just to Riley.

Zero-G is also written in the present tense, which still throws me. I’ve read plenty of books written in the present tense, and in some cases I didn’t realize it until much later after I had finished them. It doesn’t work as well for me in these stories, though I’ll admit I got used to it the more I read the book. I think doing so is an attempt by the author to give the story a sense of immediacy, but having it written in the past tense wouldn’t remove any of the drama of the story. It just seems like an odd choice.

Speaking of the drama of the story, parts of it were lacking because of the way Boffard structured it. When there were moments where the characters were faced with a dilemma, it was solved by the next paragraph, or sometimes even in the next sentence. It’s not unusual for a character to make a decision, have another character tell him not to, because of some reason, and then the other character to immediately change his mind. There was never a chance to feel the tension of the moment while the reader has to wonder how it’s going to play out. This didn’t happen all the time — there were still key elements of the story that stretched out as one would expect — but it happened often enough to make me question the motivations of the characters and the overuse of coincidence in the plot.

The story is still entertaining and engaging, but it lacks some characteristics which would have made it a great story. As it is, it’s OK, at best (enough so for me to jump straight into the third book in the series), but I can see how, with a little more work, the story could have been extraordinary. For sheer story-telling power, though, the book succeeds.

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