Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ghost Country

Remember that awkward time when I kept confusing Scott Snyder and Scott Sigler?  I'm not much of a name person.  I mean, I'm better with names than I am with numbers (I pretty much add my time card incorrectly every week ... with the aid of a calculator), but faces are best.  If I've learned anything as a Professional Librarian, it's that I'm an extremely visual person.  I identify books by their covers and tag that with the title in my mind.  It's my weird neurological visual metadata system, and it usually works.  Sometimes it freaks people out when I completely describe what a book looks like and they hold it up, but then again, I'm pretty good with the infamous "It's got a blue cover" questions.

When I started the Travis Chase/Breach series, I didn't have a visual of the author, Patrick Lee.  Plus, it's a relatively common name, so there could conceivably be multiple authors with that name.  So when I read Runner earlier last year, there was zero connection in my mind between the author of that book, which I really enjoyed, and the author of the Travis Chase books.  As I was scrolling through my TBR and noticed Ghost Country (book two of the series) pretty high up there, I had a say-whaat? moment when I realized that it was written by Runner Patrick Lee.  

Now this is both a positive and a negative.  Comparing Runner to The Breach, Lee's first book, I'd say Runner is much more polished and focused.  Lee is improving as he goes, as writers should.  This makes me even more excited for the next book in the Runner series.  I'm starting to trust Lee as an author.  On the other hand, having recently-ish read Runner caused me to compare that book to Ghost Country as I was reading it, which wasn't really a fair thing to do.

It may seem like I write paragraphs of drivel in order to either bore you out of your minds or obfuscate my true purpose in reviewing, but I assure you that neither of those hypotheses are true.  I simply have to work it all out as I write.  I don't blog *professionally,* and I don't expect, nor do I wish, to become some sort of well-known book blogging superstar.  Although it does make me happy that people read my tiny blip on the internet and sometimes even comment on it!

Look, I've done four paragraphs of yammering and not even gotten to the proper review yet!  It may be a new personal record!  But to actually get to the point, Ghost Country is a fine book; it just isn't a great book.

Admittedly, I'd forgotten a lot of what happened in The Breach, so the whole runaway-hero thing in the beginning puzzled me, but I figured Lee would come back to it in the end, which he did (thank you!).  Two years after a series of very unfortunate events led him to a deep black organization called Tangent, Travis Chase is living the life of a nobody, but he doesn't mind.  He doesn't have to worry about alien tech coming through an inexplicable breach in spacetime, and he doesn't have to worry about how he'll probably one day do something extremely horrible.  He's not been in contact with Paige, the lady he fell hard for and who also works in Tangent, either.

As Travis works third-shift security jobs, Paige has just finished briefing the President about the implications of a new item to come through the breach.  Just minutes after leaving the White House, her motorcade is ambushed, and everyone but her is killed.  She's taken captive because she knows how to work the mysterious alien cylinder, but not before she manages to get a message to her protégé Bethany, instructing her to grab the remaining cylinder and find Travis Chase.

What follows is a mostly-fun, pretty formulaic, and sometimes confusing romp through time.  One of the things I liked about The Breach is that I could picture the characters as real people.  Here, all the vitality's been sucked out of them and they just sort of move around in the narrative.  Actually, that's not entirely true.  Bethany, the new girl, is actually pretty cool.  She's really smart--like let's-hack-the-internet-smart, but never pigeonholed as the "geeky girl" or even the "hot geeky girl."  She's just ... Bethany, and I like that.  But that's pretty much it.  Even the villains aren't menacing, maniacal, or even vaguely scary.  They simply are.

One thing that really puzzled me (and this is a minor spoiler, so if you're feeling sensitive, stop reading) related to the cylinders' function.  They open a portal in spacetime to approximately 80 years in the future.  This is relative to your position, so if you are in Wyoming and you open the portal, you will see Wyoming 80 years in the future, and so on.  The characters theorize that the not-very-good future that they see comes about because of some special project that the President is in on; however, in the very act of attempting to change the future, they have changed the future.  One of the characters even says this at one point: the cylinder is showing them one possible future.  At this point, Travis, Bethany, and Paige have already altered the string of events leading to that particular future, meaning that it's pretty much a moot point.  However, they continue on, determined to prevent that future from ever happening, which was a bit confusing.  In general, time is just a really tricky topic to tackle (ha ha!  Alliteration PARTY!) because we like to think we know more about it than we really do.

I'm not a physicist, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, which means I feel qualified to present the following argument: You are in timeline A.  You receive a quasi-magical alien (?) technology that allows you to see x amount of years into the future of timeline A.  By its very existence, does not the ability to see the future of timeline A alter timeline A?  If not, the actions you take because of the ability to see into the future immediately shunts you into timeline B, the one where you did something about A.  You are now living timeline B.  Why are you still trying to "fix" timeline A?

There's also a scene where a main character totally has the chance to kill the bad guy and doesn't take the shot because she doesn't deem him the most critical threat.



Anyway, all of this makes it sound like I really disliked the book, which is untrue.  It was a fun thriller.  It's just that when you start really thinking about it, things start to fall apart.  Plus, I was expecting more (retroactively, so maybe *I* have a temporal issue here as well?) from the author of Runner.

I'll definitely be reading the final book in the series, Deep Sky.

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