Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Book Review: Earth Alone by Daniel Arenson



Earth Alone by Daniel Arenson was... you know, I don't know HOW I found it. I suspect it was on promo or something in some mailing list of discounted books or something. I'd never heard of Daniel Arenson before which is odd because he's written a LOT of books, and they're the kind I like. But somehow I kept not reading him.

Until now.

Earth Alone is the first in a series, maybe a trilogy. I should have looked before reviewing I guess but I just finished reading it and was excited to come tell you about it. Oops. I just broke the fourth wall. Please excuse me. I'm excited.

Earth Alone is military science-fiction if you had to shelve it that's where you'd put it. You'd be limiting the readership too much though. Listen. I know all about military sci-fi. It often starts with, here's the arc:

1) Meet the protagonist & see him in normal environment/home. Nice guy. Likable. Maybe a bit artistic/sensitive.
2) MILITARY!!!
3) Bootcamp is hard, a series of examples of how hard it is and how overwhelming and "I just wanna go home, I miss... stuff."
4) Things start coming together, the company/platoon/whatever starts gelling and getting less haggard feeling.
5) Death. Someone dies. Not an important character but one that's been added in there, perhaps after the story was written because all boot camp stories need this person to die. You can literally remove them from the story and it doesn't change in any way. It just serves the purpose Coulton's Death did in The Avengers and brings the team even closer together. "We're doing this for DEAD GUY!!!"
6) Graduation. Everything's golden.
7) Off to war. OMG - it's horrible. I hate this. Thank Glob for all that training! this is what we trained for people! Our protagonist turns out to be a great leader of men but denies it and says he was just doing what had to be done.
8) Much death but remains of the troop go on to bigger things.

That happens in ALL boot camp stories. It's THE story arc and I felt like this book was doing the same thing. Hitting all the same beats as Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card - read the book, ignore the movie) Starship Troopers (Robert A. Heinlein - read the book, ignore the movie), and countless others that've gone before.

You know why it happens this way? Because it works. The death scene that is always there and that I always see coming even if I don't know who it's going to be... it's there and it is the *click*. It's the moment the hero goes from the person he was when we met him to the person he is going to be in the end. It's a transformative death, the chrysalis moment where he changes and the death is a punctuation mark, an exclamation point when done correctly, and a comma when done incorrectly (I'm looking at you Madonna's baseball movie A League of Their Own... nobody even knew who that character WAS! You knew the beat, but you did it wrong.)

This book hit all those beats, and you know it's going to. It's that kind of book. And it did it exceptionally well. To the point where I finished the last of the book (Beats 6-8 above) in Taco Johns eating their super nachos and drinking a giant tea and crying. Literally wiping my eyes with a napkin and sniffling crying as I read it. I cried from happiness and joy and sadness and pride. It was outstanding. I cried unashamedly and kept reading right there in public with a napkin in one hand as I blotted my eyes with it one at a time so I didn't have to stop reading. At one point I thought I was going to choke on my churro as I tried to swallow it and found that being "choked up with emotion" is more than a figure of speech. My throat rebelled against the idea of swallowing at that moment.

The characters are good. I liked them. There's one, a tiny girl, who has a story she tells about two times too often but, it's there to make a point so Arenson beats us over the head with it, the characters too. I get it. I went to boot camp and the mouthiness these characters had... and the punishments they were given... that part was unrealistic to me. They had quite a few more smart-assed remarks than I thought they should have. That bugged me some. But it didn't take away from how much I liked the characters, the story, or the book itself.

Listen, it's not A Tale of Two Cities, or The Stand (seriously, one of the best books ever written) but it's really really good. I read it on my kindle and on the last page when it offered to sell me the next in the series I clicked BUY NOW without a moment's hesitation. I won't read it next though. I'm wrung out. I need something lighter.

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