Monday, June 12, 2017

Answering review request: Star Racers

Martin Felando asked me to rad his book Star Racers: Win the Race. Save Your Planet. It is about a universe wide space race where the winner secures protection for their planet from invaders and local warlords. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

"Win the race; save your planet" is the slogan for Grand Battle, the space race in question. It is also a concise summary of the plot. The people who join Grand Battle come from planets that have big problems. United Plant Coalition, the force behind Grand Battle, pledges aid to those racers that win. My problem with this set up is that the link between the two is never explained. This is not a "Show; don't tell" thing because there is a talkshow host guy (Verus) who explains things about Grand Battle and how it works, yet he skips the link between "win the race" and "save your planet". The prize's basic role is to serve a macguffin for the story; only the beginning and ending directly have to do with it.

See, this story has a In Media Res format. It begins with Rev Ardent, the protagonist, starting a draft race to qualify and then it jumps back to before he was in any position to even consider competing. The majority of the story is him acquiring the necessary equipment and then making the journey to Grand Hotel, which hosts Grand Battle.  There's nothing wrong with this, in and of itself, but the set up suffers for it. The bulk of the story is made for suspense, tension, and drama yet the format guarantees certain things, which then deflates them. For instance, when Rev says that he is going to quit racing, the reader knows that it will be a Ten Minute Retirement at worst.

However, this is not to say that certain scenes are suspenseful or dramatic. The pre-Grand Battle scenes have a different cast than that at the race itself, and Verus mentions how Rev encountered a lot of trouble reaching Grand Battle, thus implying that he and Sashi are the only survivors of the previous cast. The battle abroad the starliner Stepp I is my favorite part of this story despite knowing that the two leads would survive it because it is still exciting due to the presence of other heroes whose fate is unknown and to the awesome things they do.

The setting that this story takes place in, its technology and culture, is interesting. For instance, there is a smartphone app called "JustThink" (sic) that enables the user to read someone's mind. The narration states that this app is "inexpensive" and there is nothing that one needs to do to the target in order to make it work. Here's the clincher; not only is the device legal to use, it is socially acceptable. The reporters present at Sashi's interview don't have to be covert at all. Sashi even wears a "smart shirt" that displays different messages depending on her mood, and these messages can be seen by anyone near her. This is not the only instance where private information is easily accessible by others. Just thinking about the implications of this are interesting. At the same time, the technology angle is pushed beyond my Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

An example of this is the pair of devices used by the Maelae to mind control. A needle is injected into someone's shoe, remains dormant for an unknown period of time, and when it reaches a destination, which is unknown, is can remove itself and propel itself towards a target whose location could not be known ahead of time; the needle has to find the target on its own. Then it injects liquid into the target which then quickly takes effect. This liquid makes the target berserk but, at the same time, controlled by the liquid to execute certain tasks. How in the world does it do that? There isn't even a handwave like "nanomachines".

After I read the ending, I began to think that "show, don't tell" might have been in effect, after all, regarding Grand Battle's prize. There are numerous references to charity throughout the story, like Besty's Lover promoting a charity that helps war refugees on his planet and the advertising income from one of Grand Battle's side shows goes to support the planets of racers who didn't qualify for the main event. I began thinking that, perhaps, Grand Battle itself is the universe's biggest charity event.

The ending itself is good. The conflict is closed and the premise resolved but there is still an element of And The Adventure Continues.

CHARACTERS

Rev and Sashi, the two leads, are great characters. Rev has this underdog theme matched with racing passion and Sashi has this Iron-Lady-in-training vibe. Rev is basically scared and anxious during all the combat scenes but is capable of harnessing that for impressive competence (including this really gutsy move he pulled on a Maelae destroyer-class ship). Sashi likewise has unshakable self-confidence while also being self-aware of her abilities and driven to improve them. They make a fantastic team in Grand Battle itself. It is their romance that I take issue with, specifically the beginning.

Rev is apparently head-over-heels for Sashi immediately, despite the fact that he spends little time with her at their first meeting and part of that is a private conversation with his AI sidekick. Sashi likewise even though she snubs him for his AI sidekick. Personally, it feels like Strangled By The Red String. The rest of the relationship is good but I don't get how it started.

Stepp and Kaedn don't have this problem. While the start of their relationship isn't shown, it is implied that Stepp made a decision between him and Verus, and this is implied to have been a big deal beyond the relationship itself, so I can assume that there was a good reason and a lot of thought going into it. Now about them individually.

I like Kaedn because he is a fantastic foil for Rev. He is a veteran star racer, well respected in the free city of Nightona that he lives in, and is both courageous and noble. When Rev meets him, it is really no surprise that he seriously considered quitting; Kaedn practically has "The Hero" written all over him. In particular, I like his first scene. It is a meeting with Shiemi, A.K.A. Mor the Warlord to discourage him from allying with the Maelae. On the one hand, he knows such an alliance would be devastating for Earth's free cities, but on the other hand, Shiemi is (or used to be) a good friend of his and his girlfriend and he doesn't want Shiemi to be backstabbed by the Maelae, which they are definitely going to. It is an effective Establishing Character Moment.

Stepp also has a splendid scene that establishes her character. It starts out with her on her private starliner, working on her tan and then having a childish argument with her best friend. It appears as though she is a spoiled and shallow actress, but then she gets a message that her boyfriend is in deadly peril. There's an immediate switch where she gives orders to her starliner's crew and then goes out to rescue him herself.

I could continuing writing paragraphs about the other racers in Grand Battle because they are given space to develop. Scrap Meat, for instance, has a chapter to himself that is great at developing him and his struggles. It is not out-of-place in the narrative either, because much of the story is framed as interviews for Verus' show, Action, Please. However, this review is already far too long (that happens a lot with me).


POLISH
It looks good. I didn't find much of anything wrong with spelling or grammar.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Star Racers a B+

Click here for the previous book review (request): Holindrian

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

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