Yesterday I wrote a blog about humor, and the value of including it in suspenseful stories. From my perspective, it goes far in helping the reader relate on a human level with what’s going on in the story, and it lightens the otherwise heavy weight of the story, which sometimes you need. I wrote about humor because I found that the saving grace of Columbus Day, this book by Craig Alanson.
The book starts off like a lot of military sci-fi: the world is attacked by aliens, these hamster-like beings called the Ruhar. The hero, back from serving in Nigeria, first protects his home, then distinguishes himself by attacking the invading aliens with nothing more than spitwads and rolled up newspapers. I exaggerate, of course, but you get the picture. The first third of the story is somewhat predictable, and has been handled many times. The main character signs up, gets shipped out to training, and gets ready to fight the aliens. But in this case, Earth was rescued by a second alien race, the lizard-like Kristang, who recruit us to help fight the invaders. In order to do so, we have to ship our forces hundreds of light years away, and are totally at the mercy of the Kristang for transportation, food and pretty much everything else. The book gets the name Columbus Day from the idea of what the Indians might have felt when they were outclassed by the Spanish (militarily, at least) when Columbus arrived.
One statement toward the end of the first chapter stuck with me and ended up being significant: “We didn’t realize we were fighting the wrong group of aliens.”
The whole political situation gets murkier and murkier with our hero being the only shining light. In fact, in one battle, because he’s the only one who showed any initiative (and lived to tell about it), the Kristang insist that his superiors promote him from sergeant to colonel. But the story gets kicked into high gear when he discovers an artifact left by the Elders (a very superior race of aliens) that looks like a beer can but is actually an AI that serves as pretty much a key to everything.
That’s where the humor comes in. The word “a_ _ hole” is used quite often to describe this AI, who otherwise goes by the name Skippy, but initially asks to be referred to as “the Lord God Almighty.” The whole story becomes a cross between Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard (which despite the trainwreck of a movie, I liked the book) and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s almost like the author suddenly realized halfway through writing the book what it was all about.
That’s the good part. The bad part? Lack of editing. Formatting problems, wrong words, typos galore. Cringe, cringe. This is the first book in a series, and I wish the author well, but he really, really needs an editor. And I would also recommend that he look at this as the first draft and reconsider how much time he spends on the tangents in the first half of the book.
It was entertaining, but very rough. Two and a half stars out of five.