Thursday, March 26, 2009

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.



Blogger Ed S. said...

Pity. I was rather looking forward to this. Well, I'll wait for a couple more reviews before a final decision on whether or not to buy it.

6:10 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Id rate this review

"A lot like other reviews, but shit"

5:38 pm  
Blogger Alice said...

Hahaha! I see what you've done there.

11:35 am  
Anonymous Emperor said...

Writers have to step up the game for you, I'd suppose.

7:27 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:42 am  
Anonymous Ryan said...

I've had my eye on this one for a while, but now I see my gaze flickering elsewhere...thanks for your review.

2:08 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm so glad you didn't like it. I've picked it up and put it back down after about 20 pages three times already.
Now I don't feel like an idiot.

10:00 pm  
Anonymous Phyrkrakr said...

I must say that the series does get quite a bit better. The first book is basically everybody in the crew at their absolute lowest point - on the run from whatever terrible things they've done, sliding their way towards obscurity and/or death, with no hope, no chance, and no friends. It's like Wooding intentionally started the series with characters as low as they could possibly get. I think that if I hadn't gotten the first three books together all at once, I probably would've stopped right there.

However, in the later books, they actually pull together. They develop a camaraderie as a crew and an appreciation for each other, as well as rediscovering some of the lost competence that had previously eluded them. Wooding tones down the misogyny (although unfortunately, he never quite eliminates it) and actually allows his characters to grow in new and interesting ways that don't follow the preplanned paths of Mal, Zoe, River, etc. And because they all started so low, it feels like they've actually earned the victories that they get along the way. The appreciation for each other doesn't feel forced, or like a plot necessity. I really enjoyed the later ones in the series, and I'd definitely give it a shot.

Finally, I will agree that the tech level is certainly...erratic, but it's all recognizable enough. The aeronautic tech does seem particularly mid-20th century, except with rigid airships instead of cargo jets, while the rest of society seems more stuck in some weird early Victorian stage with rudimentary electricity, extremely limited mass transit, and long-range communications so primitive they might as well be nonexistent. Daemonism is just something else entirely that does get explored more in the later books in the series. I dunno, I liked the mix of old and new-ish tech.

10:29 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home