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|From Neptune to Earth
by James Krych & David Cuciz
Published by Good Deal Games, 2006
Suggested by: Greg Slade
From Neptune to Earth is essentially fan fiction based on a video arcade game named Gyruss, which was released in 1983, and subsequently ported to a number of home gaming systems. In the game, as in the book, there are a number of battles at different planets in the Solar system, starting with Neptune, and ending with Earth. (At the time the game was released, Pluto had not yet been demoted from a planet to a pluton, but Pluto was left out of the original release of the game, although it has been added into some ports.) In the book, the explanation for this scenario is that a force of cloned humans called the Ideoclan came out of nowhere and overwhelmed the Solar System's defences through force of numbers. The various interstellar colonies band together to liberate the Earth from the Ideoclan invaders, before the Ideoclan decide to mop up the colonies as well.
The story is told from two viewpoints: One is that of Sergeant David "Swiss" Kurtz, an infantry NCO from the Swiss Outer Territories (which are, in typical Swiss fashion, different from the colonies started by other countries, not just because they are assertively neutral, but also because they are legally part of the Helvetian Confederacy, and have representation in the Swiss parliament.) Kurtz is seconded to the colonies' Joint Military Forces as a "military advisor." The second viewpoint is that of Jon "Texas" Kryton, originally from Earth, who had emigrated to the Colony of New Texas, and was serving in the New Texas National Guard as an engineer. Despite their background, both men are assigned as pilots of the new F-911 Gyruss fighter. As it happens, they turn out to be pretty good pilots, and end up as wing leaders in the same squadron.
The various battles are told from both perspectives in turn, so the reader gets two views of the same battle. In one way, this makes it easier for two authors to collaborate on a book, since they don't have to coordinate their stories too closely. However, there are points at which we have both characters in the same place at the same time, and the accounts do not always match up. Then, too, there are points in which descriptions of battles degenerate into quick snatches of radio chatter between pilots. The writers may have had a clear picture of the course of the battle in their minds, but this is not transmitted to the reader beyond "it was dangerous, but we won." (This is complicated by the authors being forced to straddle a fence between basing the story on the tactics used in a video game, and seriously considering how space combat might work.) It may be an unfair comparison, but I thought wistfully of Douglas Bader's Reach for the Sky and Adolf Galland's The First and the Last, both of which do a much better job of getting across a mental picture of dogfighting.
I should make it clear, however, that the science content here is much stronger than your standard space opera. Since I tend to complain about books in which there are scientific goofs, I should praise Krych and Cuciz for "getting it right." The outer planets are not treated as merely larger versions of Earth. (There is no silliness, for example, about colonies on the "surface" of gas giants.) At one point, a character is forced to crash land on a moon of Saturn, and then the constraint on that character's survival becomes, not how much food, water, or even oxygen is available, but how long their suit's batteries can keep the suit warm enough to stave off hypothermia. Similarly, the battles around Jupiter are constrained, not by fuel or ammunition, but by exposure to radiation put out by Jupiter itself. The research put in by the authors prevented the frustration I experience when encountering scientific goofs in many works.
The reason this book was offered for review here is the Christian content. Kryton is a Christian throughout the story, and his account is liberally sprinkled with references to Bible studies, the Outer Colonies Missionary Aviation Fellowship, and similar elements which will be familiar to evangelicals. There is also a character named Chaplain McCreary, who plays a larger role in the story than one might expect in military SF. Kurtz, on the other hand, doesn't talk much about religion until he comes to a personal crisis and needs divine help. On the other hand, there are a couple of near death experience sequences which don't obviously fit in with Christian teaching, so this feels more like a story which talks about Christianity than a Christian story.
As I have mentioned before, I'm a "hard marker", so the issues which spoiled the story for me might not bother other readers half so much. Then, too, those with fond memories of playing Gyruss for endless hours would be much more likely to get excited about a novel based on the game. (Somehow, I doubt that anybody's going to release a novel based on Lemmings any time soon.) I should probably also point out that there are a number of scenes which work extremely well, and there are some plots threads left loose at the end, opening the way for a sequel. If the authors get a chance to do some judicious editing, this could well turn out to be a worthy opening to a series of books. (June, 2007)
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