Retribution Falls - Chris Wooding
At the risk of injuring my geek credentials, I have to confess that I only got round to watching Firefly for the first time a few weeks ago. Bewailing the abrupt ending (curse you, studio execs!), it seemed serendipitous that my latest review book to come through appeared to be, well, a Firefly ripoff, and I was looking forward to more of the same. Captain Darian Frey takes on a job of light piracy only to find himself framed for a dastardly crime; skulduggery and murder is afoot among the nobles; with bounty hunters and law enforcement on their tail, the only hope for Frey and his crew (all with Mysterious Pasts) could lie within the legendary pirate lair of Retribution Falls... it's a group of smugglers, outlaws and general ne'er-do-wells, outwitting the
Alliance Coalition! A roguishly handsome captain obsessed with freedom! A cavalier disregard for the practical realities of space travel, made up for by snappy dialogue and black humour! All aboard the Ketty Jay for heists, piracy, evasion of the Evil Authorities and daring escapades galore!
Alas, it was not to be. If the concept had been "Just Like Firefly!" then we'd have had some fine (if derivative) fun; sadly, it turned out to actually be "Just Like Firefly, But Shit", and the settings are so similar that comparison is inevitable. In place of Joss Whedon's excellent female cast, we have instead one navigator, Jez, who could best be (and is) described as "feisty", and a whole bucketload of lazy, default misogyny. The crew is intentionally nastier than Firefly's, meaning we lose the friendly team dynamic, and the snappy dialogue is replaced with a kind of mundane British blokiness, which may be amusing enough down the pub but isn't nearly as funny as it thinks it is. The one main original idea is the presence of "daemons" (sort of semi-sentient spirits) - the Posh Bloke On The Run character is a daemonist who has dabbled in this forbidden art - however, it sits oddly alongside the book's jumble of technology and inadequately-described backdrop. What with one thing and another, it was quite some time before I realised that all the action took place on the same (fairly low-tech) world, where cutlasses and bayonets sit alongside electric power, revolvers, afterburners and aircraft powered by "aerium" - none of the pieces seemed to quite fit together.
The writing style doesn't help matters any, as it's generally rather poor. The viewpoint discipline is extremely sloppy, the exposition is clumsy and forced, and there's more than one instance of "as you know, Bob" infodump conversation. This became a real drag on the story; every time I'd start getting interested in the progress of the fast-paced plot, I'd suddenly be brought up short by another badly-written passage, or some Thesaurus Dialogue (she swooned, he demanded, he pondered...), or yet another golden nugget of the pervasive sexism. If you can overlook these flaws, then you'd probably find this a decent enough read, but for me they are dealbreakers, and I didn't enjoy this book very much at all - in fact, if this hadn't been a review copy, I'd probably have given up halfway through. Not impressed.