Cauldron (Aliens, Book 12)
by Diane Carey
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Aliens Novels: Book 12, Cauldron / 978-1-59582-113-3
I usually leave my summary recommendation until the end of my reviews, but this time I'll save time by placing it at the top: This is one of the worst books I've ever read, and it is my exceedingly strong recommendation that you not waste any of your money, or indeed any of your time on this horrendously bad novel.
After the pile of cliche and melodrama that was Carey's previous addition to the aliens series ("DNA War"), I didn't expect high art from "Cauldron", but this book greatly surpassed all my expectations that it would be awful. Although I had expected a heaping pile of cliche, melodrama, and anachronism (Carey habitually fails to comprehend that science fiction writing should have a different tone than a dime store detective novel), covered by a layer of boring "tell-don't-show" exposition and massive editing issues, it seems that I was being uncreative in my predictions and should also have anticipated that Carey would use this latest medium as a breathtakingly narcissistic diversion into her personal hobbies and interests.
"Cauldron" is largely composed of what Carey *wanted* to write about, as opposed to what she was *paid* to write about, which practically speaking boils down thus: this is a book about historic ships, and NOT a book about aliens. That someone signed off on this complete slap in the face of the aliens' readership is another crime entirely, but I have never seen such shoddy writing and complete disregard for the given subject material as Carey shows here. The "About the Author" note states that she's an enthusiast of historic ships, which you'll have already guessed long before you make it to the end note, because hardly a page goes by where she doesn't go off on a completely random tangent in order to spout factoids about ancient ships.
Allow me to elucidate: The main spaceship on which we open - and keep in mind this is supposed to be the distant future, long after humans have colonized other planets and the nuclear war has ravaged earth and most of the history books, for that matter - the main spaceship boasts a gigantic mural on its side of (and I can't believe I'm writing this) the Monitor and the Merrimac locked in battle. You know, the iron-clad ships that fought each other in the American civil war? *That* Monitor and Merrimac? If you don't remember much about the Monitor and Merrimac from school, don't despair - Carey spends several pages devoted to the history of those ships and, indeed, all American civil war era ships in general. Hey, you know those new state-of-the-art Joint Strike Fighter airplanes that American is currently developing? You know how those are being fitted out with murals of Hannibal's mighty Carthaginian war elephants? Of course not! Because that would be indescribably stupid! Oh, yeah, and the space ships of the future have 'stevedores' and 'bosuns' and probably those stupid high-pitched whistles, just because Carey enjoys using those words and describing the historical context behind them... over and over and OVER again...
A lot of "Cauldron" is written like Carey is vaguely aware that science fiction genre exists, and may have even seen a sci-fi movie once or twice in her life (NOT an aliens movie, though, obviously), but the overall concept is still completely foreign. I'm just going to make a blanket statement for all hack sci-fi writers, free of charge: In the distant space-faring future, there should NOT be references to a current "America", "Romania", or "Australia" (*especially* not in the aliens-verse, where Australia-the-continent was completely nuked, and Australia-the-government didn't survive the process). There should NOT be a Dutch-American immigrant on board with English so broken that she says things like "Dat's all dere is toot" (a direct quote, I swear, and roughly translating to "That's all there is to it," in case the context isn't clear). And while I'm the biggest Monty Python fan you can hope to find, you should NOT blatantly shoe-horn in Monty Python jokes into your sci-fi book ("What is the capital of Assyria? The correct answer is 'I don't know that', followed by a scream." I swear this is another direct quote from this novel.), and you *especially* shouldn't shoe-horn in the same joke TWICE, just in case the reader didn't notice your immense cleverness the first time around. And if you have a hobby like, oh, historic ships, or quilting, or chainsaw juggling, it shouldn't take up so much of the book that it completely obscures the main plot and indeed the actual REAL items of interest (i.e. the aliens) aren't even seen until well into the second half of the book.
The "About the Author" note also indicates that when Carey isn't mangling the aliens series, she churns out Star Trek novels by the dozens apparently and while this further confirms my theory that the sci-fi franchises I love must all be in the hands of gibbering lunatics and middle management, I will admit that I can kind-of-sort-of see some of this working for a Star Trek novel. Star Trek is a backwards-gazing science fiction universe, partly because it's a series that deals with the evolution of the human spirit over history, but mostly because TV sets are expensive and every set piece from the 'ancient' 20th century means that the week's episode made it in on-time and under-budget. A movie like "Aliens", however, is a *completely* different world and thematic style, and assuming that a successful Star Trek sci-fi writer will automatically be a good Aliens sci-fi writer is like saying that a Dragonball Z writer could churn out the plot of "Nausicaa" in a given afternoon - being in the same overall genre doesn't mean that the two have ANYTHING in common.
To bring this tirade to an end and sum it all up in a pithy one-line: Authors should not muck up established book franchises in order to indulge their personal and irrelevant hobbies.
~ Ana Mardoll
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