Friday, 26 June 2009

‘Orphan’s Triumph’ – Robert Buettner (Orbit)


I have been so forgetful over last couple of weeks that it’s a wonder I made it into work this morning! The only reason that I’ve remembered to write this review is that I’ve got the book sat on my desk staring me right in the face...
Talking of which, I was really pleased when my copy of ‘Orphan’s Triumph’ arrived in the post. While ‘Orphanage’ was a touch too similar to ‘Starship Troopers’, for my liking, it was still an entertaining read with a character that I was interested to see grow and develop. Also, I’m always keen on reading tales of humanity fighting intergalactic slugs! :o) If only my forgetful brain hadn’t forgotten that there are three other books that nestle comfortably in between ‘Orphanage’ and ‘Orphan’s Triumph’...

Jason Wander’s fortunes have risen and fallen with the changing tides of a forty year war against the Slugs. No matter whether they’ve changed for better or worse the price he has paid has always been a heavy one with friends and family dying along the way. Wander is currently a garrison commander, on one of the emerging allied planets, but the vagaries of command (and an enemy still capable of throwing up the odd surprise) will propel him straight into events that will decide the outcome of the war and possibly the fate of humanity. It’s at this critical juncture that Wander will have to face what he has become under the pressures of constant warfare and what he is prepared to do about this...

It is not the book’s fault that I initially had trouble getting back up to speed with what has been happening over the course of the series, I will quite happily take the blame there. However, it was almost as if Buettner knew what I was going to do as a series of handy little info-dumps (fairly unobtrusive and tastefully arranged as recollection rather than a ‘straight up in your face info-dump) were on hand to get me back into the swing of things. ‘Orphan’s Triumph’ could be read on its own, if you really wanted to, but I don’t see why anyone would want to. Get the best out of the series and start at the beginning... ;o)

The war is winding down and a result of this, as far as I was concerned, was that the book felt more than a little choppy in terms of pace. Moments of extreme action (which are very good, I loved the shootout on Weichsel) are followed by drawn out passages on Earth which although good for fleshing out Wander’s character really jar the flow of the book. The nature of war is such that there will be periods of inactivity (that punctuate the action) but this inescapable fact didn’t come across so well in terms of a book that needed to have a consistent flow to it.

When I read ‘Orphanage’ I noted that it was almost too similar to ‘Starship Troopers’; the chapters where Wander returns to Earth (after years away) read like an incredibly watered down version of ‘The Forever War’. Things have changed just enough that Wander feels ever so slightly out of place but not enough for the fact that he has spent such a long time away to be explored in the depth that perhaps it needed.

This isn’t to say that ‘Orphan’s Triumph’ is a bad read (although I wasn’t convinced by the ending, more on that in a minute...) If you’re after a good dose of military sci-fi where the aliens are particularly ‘alien’ and the ensuing space battles suitably heroic then this book (and the series as a whole) is for you. Buettner really gets inside the head of Wander and shows the reader in no uncertain terms what war is all about. Every shot fired has a consequence and no consequence goes unremarked... I’m also a fan of the military structure that Buettner adheres to over the course of the book. There’s a good mix of present day military hierarchy and future warfare (starships etc) that gives the reader something to be grounded in whilst freeing their imagination up for the rigours of war in space.

Without giving too much away, I really wasn’t so sure about the ending however. The ‘Orphanage’ series is Wander’s tale; he kicks things off so it’s only right that it ends with him as well. It all seemed a bit contrived though with a series of events that just happened to coincide to propel him into the final confrontation with the Slug Overlord (sorry, Pseudocephalopod!) That particular confrontation has still got me wondering if it works or not. While it works very well in terms of the ‘what it means to be human’ subplot, I was left wondering whether a soldier in that situation would really do what Wander ends up doing. Suspension of disbelief was not achieved here...

‘Orphan’s Triumph’ is a fun read but didn’t really stand up to the scrutiny that I ended up putting it through. Maybe I should have accepted it for what it was but I felt it could have been a bit more...

Seven out of Ten

1 comment:

SciFiBookshelf.com said...

Years ago, I invited Robert Buettner to my bookstore, but all of his books sold out before he got there! He was a great sport about it, though, and handed out Orphanage swag. I asked him recently about his latest book, Orphan's Triumph, and he had all kinds of fascinating things to say about being compared to Heinlein, getting published overseas and the root of modern science fiction. He also told me that Overkill, the first novel in the Orphan’s Legacy series, will be released in early 2011. (If you're curious, you can read the interview for free at SciFiBookshelf.com )