As promised, I finished Mission of Gravity. You know how in old Warner Brother’s cartoons, Wile E. Coyote would fly off the edge of a cliff, keep running, and then suddenly realize that there was no ground beneath him? It was kind of like that. I was literally halfway through the first paragraph of the author’s bio when I realized that the story was over, and I had to flip back a page or two to see where it had actually ended. Turns out I missed it because it never happened.
I’m not sure if it’s a “written in the 1950′s” thing, or the author trying to make sort of point, or what, but the story doesn’t so much “end” as “stop”. The entire plot of the book is that humans are largely unable to survive on the high-gravity world of Mesklin, and require the services of the natives in order to retrieve scientific data from a crashed rocket. Throughout the story, there were two big promises to the reader that kept getting made over and over again:
1) We were going to find out whether the rocket still existed, and whether it was worth the arduous trip to retrieve it and its data.
2) The main Mesklinite character is planning some sort of betrayal of the human characters.
That betrayal actually happens, but the humans reasonably realize that they need the Mesklinites help, and the Mesklinite request is so reasonable (education in basic science; they’re a medieval society) that the scene is almost over before it starts. Their request is granted; end of subplot. Reasonable. Not exciting.
As for the main plot, everything seems to be building up for a climax. After a difficult, painful journey by land and sea halfway across the planet, the rocket is finally in sight. Special care has to be taken in getting the data out because of the high gravity, but things seem to be going well. The end. Seriously. It’s implied that the data is safe and will be useful for the humans, but come on. Throw in a couple more pages of payoff. I was seriously disappointed, especially since the setting was interesting and the plot actually had some decent stakes. Then the ending just throws it all down the toilet.
The other book I’ve been “reading” (I actually listened to it in podcast form) is Captain’s Share by Nathan Lowell. It’s the story of a brand new merchant captain being assigned to the worst ship in his fleet, and his efforts to reform its crew. Although it’s pretty soft as science fiction goes, it had a pretty detailed look at the way that commercial space travel would work in its setting. I’m of two minds regarding the story – on the one hand, Lowell has an interesting writing style and gives great voice to his characters, but on the other hand, the novel had no plot.
Seriously. Characters move around and change, but there’s no narrative arc, no climax, no rising action even. It’s all just beginning with part of a middle but no end. Even worse, the characters, though interesting, were altogether way too reasonable (detecting a theme yet?). Captain Wong marches in, sees the sorry state his ship and crew are in, takes steps to fix it, and all of his steps work. By the end of the book his crew loves him and each other, and his ship is making lots of money. Ta da!
Which is too bad, because I enjoyed the book overall. You might even say that I enjoyed it in spite of its demonstrable faults, and in spite of them I’m not going to call it a bad book. After all, it entertained me, right? It entertained me enough to want to go back to the first book in the series, for that matter. I just wish that there was a little less sugar and a little more meat to the story.