In Invasion of Kzarch, E.G Castle mixes marines, space pirates and a living Diabolus Ex Machina to create a by-the-numbers military novel topped off with wooden characters.
Menacing pirates, a dash of intergalactic politics and an inexperienced marine lieutenant seem to set the stage for an exciting genre romp with the USF. Unfortunately, for this reader, the execution left a lot to be desired.
The story is relatively straightforward: a simple operation goes horribly askew due to faulty intelligence. As always with this setup, the heroes (marines) are vastly outnumbered by the enemy (pirates) and have to overcome them with their wits, firepower and technical superiority.
In charge of the marines, there’s Lieutenant Frank. He’s a rookie officer who’s out of his league and has to rely on his Sergeant for advice. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Frank’s indecisiveness creates less empathetic human and more blank slate. His internal monologue is one of humility, but he never seems to pick any fights with the higher ranking officers. When he mulls over decisions privately, he doesn’t come up with new ideas or fresh solutions. He simply exists to (humbly) continue a losing war. As for his dialogue, well, it sounds less military (even stylised Hollywood-military) and more akin to a young adult lost in life’s tides.
On the other side is Bloody Jack. The sociopath. The remorseless, brilliant Moriarty of pirates with a touch of Captain Jack Sparrow thrown in. Unfortunately, his sociopathy stretches beyond the realm of possibility. He murders, kills and mutilates his crew in such a quick fashion it’s impossible to imagine him ever gaining such a large cohort. The odds anyone, especially someone skilled, would belong to his crew are simply too long. If they were that smart, they wouldn’t put themselves under the constant threat of death by a madman. He essentially becomes a raging cartoon who only does things that will propel the novel forward and antagonise the marines.
Not that it’s short on drama: there’s treachery, an off-book romance and gun battles galore. Unfortunately, all of the scenes play out as if they are silent movies under glass and blurred by thousands of pounds of water on top of them. They happen because they happen. And asides from the two main leads (and one pirate named Mad), the rest of the characters merge into a single mass of humanity that struggles and fights because it has to.
Along with the forgettable deaths, similar sounding dialogue and walking plot-creation device, E.G. Castle also tosses in a number of info-dump sections. They explain the world, the history and the backstory, which is great, if only something happened during these moments. Or the information was used in some way later on in the novel. It is used and then forgotten, brushed into the margins as soon as the battle is over, decision made or speech delivered.
What saves Invasion of Kzarch is E.G. Castle’s writing style. It’s simple and easy to read. The world and people are sufficiently detailed to imagine and the sentences flow from one to the next. So despite the plot holes and lack of incentive to keep reading, I didn’t find it frustrating and finished it in two 40-minute train rides.
Invasion of Kzarch is a simple story with a lot of great elements that are not used to the extent they could’ve been. Most of the characters are forgettable, and the few that consume most of the book’s reading time are so far removed from their real (or traditionally stylised) counterparts that it’s hard to imagine them being in those roles. What saves it from being a throw-across-the-room novel is E.G. Castle’s easy-to-follow writing style.
Recommended for those who love pirates and are looking for a filler novel because they’ve read all the big releases. If not, I’d suggest Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein or Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.
Books Are Indie