Reading Journey: The Departure

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Okay, so I haven’t posted much in the last few weeks (or at all in the past 4), but maybe I’m prepping a bunch of content. In the meantime, here’s the latest review from my 2015 Reading Journey. I actually finished The Departure in early April, but just got to editing the review. At least one more review is going to follow shortly.

Subgenre: Space Opera (sort of).

The Departure begins set on a dystopian future Earth. This would normally turn me off—I’m not much into dystopic visions as I think they’re extremely unlikely, not to mention generally depressing—as would the general slow pace and piles of description. There’s too much internal dialogue and societal exposition for me to want to follow things, but it’s the character concept that pulls me in, at least for a while.

Alan Saul woke up in a box bound for an incinerator with a direct connection to what may be the only true AI in the world, ridiculous hand to hand combat skills, very little in the way of memory and a reckless disregard for human life, probably including his own. We pick up the story sometime after he’s vowed revenge on the dystopian police state that Earth has become, not because it’s become a dystopian police state, but because it had the gall to throw him away, even though he has no idea who he was. We learn quickly that pretty much nothing will stand in his way. So, an amnesiac cyborg ninja out to pull down a corrupt and brutal regime. What’s not to love in the concept? Plus, the book is action-packed and the pace rarely slows for more than a moment or two, carrying you along with it.

And yet, it’s almost the B story that pulls me in more. The first scene in every other chapter takes place on Mars, where a mini-revolution is progressing to match the macro one back on Earth. And it has Saul’s sister at its head. The Martian colony is victim of corruption spiraling out of control and has been abandoned. If they can just get rid of the political officer and his cronies, the scientists and engineers might have a chance to survive more than six months.

The story has a lot of potential at the conceptual level, but there are a handful of things that consistently push me out of the story, too.

Every chapter opens with a big chunk of societal explanation. Probably half of the world-building is spoon fed to us this way. Far too much exposition, and sometimes that comes into the dialogue as well, characters telling each other what they already know in too much detail so that the reader can know it, too.

The violence level is excessive for my taste, far beyond what I’m interested in reading. The word ‘splatter’ comes to mind, actually. Saul would have a hard time caring less for humanity in general, and individuals specifically. It seems like hardly a page goes by without him ending someone’s life in a messy way, with limbs flying, blood spraying, organs visible when you’d rather they weren’t, or some combination. Lucky victims asphyxiate, are blown up, or vaporized by the occasional giant laser. Even when Saul’s lover from his previous life starts to become his conscience, it doesn’t really slow him down that much. He still doesn’t care about the lives he’s destroying, only that she understands why it’s necessary. It’s a sign of him caring about something beyond revenge, I suppose, but it’s not enough.

The author has sprinkled painful similes through the book. “Steaming like raw meat dropped onto a hot stove.” This is the one everyone seems to quote, but:

  • “…its twin smelting plants like glowing eyes…”
  • “…the hull of the station, which extended into the distance like a massive highway…”
  • “…an agribot like an iron centipede…”
  • “…hovering above them like steel vultures…”
  • “…bounds across the corridor like some huge somnolent flea.”
  • “…along the wall like steel and plastic herons…”
  • “Shambling like a reanimated corpse…”
  • “…windows glinting like slabs of mica in the stonework.”
  • “…he toppled like a falling tree…”
  • “…like black eyeballs impaled on narrow posts.”
  • “…a sound impacted like that of an avalanche in a scrapyard.”

I could find more, but I’d rather not. I feel like I’ve gone too far as it is.

Saul, as the book’s hero, is so clearly superman compared to the rest of the human race, even his ultimate nemesis, that even when he’s captured and being tortured, there’s no doubt in either his mind or the reader’s that he’s going to rip the universe a new one, one corpse at a time.

And the ending is not as satisfying as I’d like it to be. Yes, it’s the first book of a trilogy, and yes, I suppose I should expect a first book to end on a cliff hanger, but this feels more like 500 pages of setup than a story that’s complete by itself.

That’s probably enough criticism, no?

There are some big things mixed together here. A slow slide into a brutal totalitarian regime, well accomplished by the time the story starts, but now starting to fracture and consume itself. An even slower colonization of Mars, now on hold as the government tries to gather all remaining resources while the “zero asset” portion of the population starves back to manageable levels, and is perhaps even helped along by some large scale purgers. The cusp of one version of post-humanity—computer implants that not only let you interface directly, but expand your mind into local and connected systems. (Spoiler: we only actually get three examples of this and only one survives the book.)

And yet I have to set my overall rating at only 2 stars, leaning towards 1.5. It was an okay read with some neat concepts, but the turn offs outweighed the good stuff for me. I’m not saying I won’t give another one of Mr. Asher’s books a try at some point, but it won’t be the next one in this series.

Actually, I kind of wish I’d read a few reviews deeper in the chain before I picked this one as an entry point into his work. I might have picked a different story.


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