Alpha Centauri

Centauri Dawn, by Michael Ely and Robert Simpson

centdawnA Spartan would rather lose an ankle than lose a fight?
I didn’t lose either, Jahn.  I didn’t yield; you stopped.  The Spartans have an incredible tolerance for pain, and they don’t surrender.  If you had broken my foot and stood up to leave, I would have kept on fighting.
-Rankojin of the Peacekeepers, giving Jahn Lal some insight on Spartan thinking

Well, it looks like Earth finally did it.  Let me rephrase that:  Mankind finally did it-it managed to pretty much kill itself.  The year is 2100, and the last remnants of humanity are arriving at the planet Chiron, which is in the Alpha Centauri system.  Unfortunately, the landing is a little rough, as a mutiny on the ship Unity forces various landing pods to eject from the ship without plan or purpose.  Not a sterling beginning to mankind’s attempt to rebuild itself.  It is, however, the beginning of this book, Centauri Dawn.  This is book one of a series (don’t know how many there will be, though)-so this gets the dubious honor of being the first book that I’ve reviewed that is just beginning.

This book takes place across several years, centering mostly on the doings of one of the several factions of survivors, the Peacekeepers, although there is a strong emphasis on the Spartans as well; and yes, you can almost guess the general thrust of the relations between these two factions.  The leader of the Peacekeepers, Pravin Lal, is desperately dedicated to trying to keep the Unity survivors in a building frame of mind; cooperation, rather than coercion.  Corazon Santiago, on the other hand, is the ultimate survivalist, seemingly embodying the worst parts of that subculture, where the weak are allowed to die (unless they’re killed flat out, naturally) and the strong take what they want.  There are other factions, but they are only briefly touched upon.  This story really belongs to these two factions.

The characters are interesting enough.  Pravin is a idealist, even though his fellows haven’t really given him reason to be-his wife was virtually killed in the mutiny-but perhaps too much so.  His son Jahn is probably as normal as a guy can get growing up on another planet.  Corazon doesn’t come off too fanatical…in fact, she shows glimmers of good sense occasionally.  Her advisors, such as a fellow named Diego, don’t have nearly as much good sense, and are apparently spoiling for a fight.  Corazon’s son, Victor, lives off of borrowed time, as many within the Spartan faction don’t think he’s tough enough for their philosophy.

Okay.  That’s the synopsis.  Here’s my opinion:  I wasn’t all that impressed.

It seemed to me that roughly half the book was a war between the two factions; I suppose I really shouldn’t have been surprised:  after all, this book is based on the computer game, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, and of course, it has a strong emphasis on battle.  On the other hand, given the events in this book and the implications of the future books, it amazes me how anyone capable of building a ship and sending it to Alpha Centauri could crew it with a bunch of mental defectives.  I mean, with the survivalist Spartans, and a faction called the Believers (which may or may not be acting with their boss’s awareness), and the hints of another one with less than honorable intentions-how could anyone think throwing all these people together would be a good idea?  The wonder isn’t that they mutinied-it’s that they did so at the end of the journey instead of in the middle or earlier!

It occurs to me that I wasn’t all that impressed with the other computer game-related book I’ve reviewed, Planescape:  Torment.  Perhaps I should take this as a hint that what might make good games don’t automatically make good novels.  I think when I see the next book on the shelves, I think I’ll leave it there. Alpha Centauri:  Centauri Dawn may appeal to the hardcore fans of the computer game, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

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