Fiction Reviews

The Liberty Gun

(2007) Martin Sketchley, Pocket Books, 6.99, pbk, 373pp, ISBN 978-0-743-4-6846-6

This, Sketchley's third novel, is also the third book in "the acclaimed Structure series", in which case the acclamations can't have been very loud, as I'd never heard of it! The previous two volumes were The Affinity Trap and The Destiny Mask and, for the sake of fairness, I should say that the blurb for this volume includes Ian R MacLeod's description as "Quick, slick, jaggedly jump-cut adventuresome fun", Jon Courtenay Grimwood's opinion of Sketchley as "A modern author writing good old-fashioned SF"; SFX calls it "rousing stuff", and Dreamwatch says it's "Good pacy, racey, spacey stuff." I bother to mention that so that you are not too put off by the fact that I just do not see what all the fuss is about. Actually I would go further: I think this book barely makes it as a beach-reader, and I don't have problems with beach-readers! It is actually pretty poor, as far as I'm concerned. Let me put it a different way; sometimes one cannot help but discover an author late - those are the breaks - but where, say, I discovered Jeffrey Thomas's 'Punktown' books very late, but wanted to get earlier volumes and read them, or discovered within reading one chapter of the second of Tony Ballantyne's 'Watcher' books that I immediately wanted to put my hands on the first volume, here I've plodded my way through a third volume that convinces me only that I should avoid the first two like the plague! Hey, perhaps it's just me...

Anyway... 'Structure', as far as I can work out, is effectively a military dictatorship on Earth run by a General William Myson, who doesn't make much of an appearance in this book. Delgado is a former Structure operative who seems to have turned against his old boss or, at the very least, is keeping out of his way. He and a colleague called Ashala seem to have popped through some kind of time gate (presumably at the end of a previous volume) on a planet called Seriatt, ending up in its future, when it has been conquered by a race called the Sinz. Here is where it all seems to get unnecessarily complex: on the one hand the the Seriatt's have three genders, vilumes, moursts and conosqs, which are (roughly speaking) androgenous thinkers, male fighters and female mothers respectively. It should be mentioned here that, again presumably in a previous volume, Delgado has fathered two children on a Seriatt conosq; one human-like which Myson thinks his his child, and one Seriatt-like, since killed by the human one; none of which stops Delgado getting it on with a vilume in this volume. Anyway... On the other hand the Sinz are one race comprised of humanoid, amphibian and avian individuals, all birthed by a thing called a basillia, which itself has scorpion-like guards and, as if that weren't confusing enough, the Sinz' spaceships are all organic and can think for themselves; oh, and the Sinz are themselves under attack by another race, the Karallax. Now it appears that the humans are the most technologically advanced race in the galaxy (and appear to have kicked a lot of alien butt in the past!), so I fail to see the logic in the Sinz' plan to invade Seraitt, which they can only reach through an unstable wormhole, while under attack from the Karallax, in order not to settle but to grow even more ships to, ultimately, invade Earth, the super-power of the galaxy! Then factor in that Myson is obviously not going to sit still for this, so sends Colonel Viktor Saskov to Seriatt in order to (a) lower the shields around the planet so that Earth forces can attack the Sinz fleet, and (b) secure the time gate for his own use, and you have got a whole mess of things going on. It does not stop there: humans nearly all have things called nobics in them (sentient nano-tech as far as I can see), which have their own take on matters, and have also just invented a ship that teleports (and is itself infested with nobics). Said ship quickley rendered useless on Seriatt... I cannot help feeling that Sketchley has just grabbed any and all sci-fi tropes he could lay his hands on and chucked them into a not-very-convincing plot in the hope that the reader will be overwhelmed by how 'cool' everything is. Can't say it works that way for me, but perhaps I'm a minority of one...? Oh, and Delgado gets to go back in time several times in order to achieve little more than to apologise to the conosq he knocked up previously, since he can't change anything or the whole continuum falls apart! As you do...

It is not that the book is badly written, which is why it is (just about) a beach-reader, but that compared to the elegantly thought out space-operas of, say, Iain Banks or Alastair Reynolds, this seems like a mish-mash of anything-and-everything, a car crash of ideas hung on the flimsiest of illogical plots and, as such, loses my interest pretty quickly. I can see this appealing to teenage readers, or those new to SF, but few others. I can't really recommend it but, if you fancy a bit of mindless space-opera then, by all means, be my guest. I can only hope that you get more out of it than I did.

Tony Chester

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