An Invisible Thread: The War in the Orion Arm by Robert Lee Wolfe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Normally, rating a book is relatively easy, though reviewing it may not be. In the case of this book, which I received through Goodreads’ First Reads, rating the book is not easy and reviewing it is difficult because ultimately I liked the story; but, the lack of editing renders the book nearly unreadable in parts. Verbosity, is not the problem here; it’s basic proofing of misspellings, malaprops, missing connector wording, and fumbled punctuation. The errata number in the hundreds which is a problem for a sci-fi/fantasy. If any genres are meant to be immersive, they’re these; but they cannot be if I’m continuously jarred out of the story with the urge to blue pen my copy.
Why did I like this book? Because around page 50, the writing got good. Thirty pages on and some of the writing was better than good. Then, three paragraphs within two pages [circa page 150] were exquisite. Having one such paragraph is rare in the majority of books. [The third of the three paragraphs is in my quotes section as a stunningly beautiful portrayal of the loneliness of space.] The first two paragraphs adroitly summarized 13 centuries of religious and philosophical history for the Earth culture, and, with subtle humor, contextualized 34th Century spirituality in relation to the alien cultures Earth subsequently had encountered.
Also, readers will enjoy the creatively bizarre descriptions of alien worlds, species and technologies. We are no longer in Kansas where bipedal apes rule.
What doesn’t work in the novel are all the ways in which the story does not believe in itself. As a reader, I cannot become invested in the story if the narrator is continuously hedging his bets. Rather than allow the 34th Century to present itself as is in stunning color and texture, comparisons to the 20th Century are numerous. This is akin to me describing everything in my modern world [ie cell phones, laptops, and email] as it relates to the reign of Charlemagne and the earliest Viking raids on Britain. If I am to let go of my 21st Century to buy into this world and story, the narrator needs to do the same. The question over whom the narrator is addressing is more confounded by the continual shifting between 2nd and 3rd person narration. The “you” in one paragraph shifted between “me” being a space soldier and “me” being a space commander. I [“You”] should probably not have been in the story as it distracts from the telling.
Readers will really like the characters and characterizations when they are finally given a chance to get to know them. This starts to happen around Chapter 9 [page 80]. Until then, characters are held at arms length and I was really beginning to wonder if “person” mattered. Until Matthew and Andrew are respectively introduced, characters do not seem to have thoughts, feelings, verbal patterns, nor habits. All description geeks out on the ships which would be okay if the ships were characters [ala Firefly], but they are ultimately not in this case. Readers know more about the seatbelts on the ships and the epaulets on the uniforms than they do the soldiers in the scenes. The shift from tech-focused to human- [and other sentient being] focused is abrupt but welcome. Previously introduced characters [Erin, Gideon] start to get rounded out likewise. The story belongs to them more than it’s given to them.
In a final note, late in the book an inconstant veneer of spirituality is tacked on as an unnecessary afterthought. It doesn’t work here, as that’s not the story that’s been told. It could be a story for a different book that is committed to such a storyline, but it cannot turn this space opera into something that it is not.
[Check out my other reviews here.]