Defenders by Will McIntosh

defendersIt’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted a book review. Not because I haven’t been reading (ha! Like that could ever happen!), but because I was torn by a conflict and didn’t know how to resolve it.

I read a book I didn’t like. Not like it’s the first time that’s happened, but I generally don’t finish books I don’t like, and therefore wouldn’t post a review. As it happens, though, I pushed on through to the end of Defenders, hoping for a dénouement that would justify my diligence. Didn’t happen. And yet, because I did finish reading it, I don’t feel completely unjustified in writing about it. And maybe I’ll save someone else a bit of time and money. Or not. Perhaps everything that bored me will excite someone else. YMMV, as teh kids say these days.

It’s not a terrible book. It’s adequately written. The language is simple but not stupid, the plot moves, if rather sluggishly, and the characters are somewhat dimensional. But overall, it was just a “Meh. Whatever,” story for me. Two weeks later, most of what I remember is glancing ahead to see how many chapters I had left to read, and hoping that something would excite me.

It felt old-fashioned, but not like an homage, just stale and tired. Defenders has telepathic aliens invading Earth, genetic engineering, global war, and plucky human defenders, but all of those have been done, and done in the same book(s) 50 years ago. Anne McCaffrey made a career on those tropes, alone and in combination, and with a much finer mastery of character. Say what you will about McCaffrey’s most recent books, she dominated shelves in the 1970-80’s.

Literature is not static. Art and craft are not static. Writers, artists, craftspeople build on the work that has gone before. As a member of the audience, I can appreciate Gulliver’s Travels, The Time Machine, Pern, 1984, et cetera, but I appreciate them for what they say about their era, their particular place and time, and the way those stories inform modern writers. But I expect modern stories from modern writers. Stories that comment on social, political, and economic realities of today.

I love the fun-house mirrors of LeGuin and Ray Bradbury, but I suspect that the most famous and popular books they wrote would be very different if written today, simply because they would have another 50-60 years of culture and art behind them.

The Martian Chronicles were published in 1950. What would those stories have been like if they had been written and published in the late 1960’s, after Vietnam, Andy Warhol, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr? There is no way to know, and that is the point.

Defenders reads sort of like War of the Worlds 100 years after itself. The issues that were current and terrifying in 1897 are banal in 2015. The unknowns are known. Genetic engineering is a fact of life that saves children with leukemia and engenders anger over seed patenting, but it’s not the looming, unknown terror of Wells’ Island of Dr Moreau.

2016 Hugo Eligibility: No
Publisher: Orbit, USA
Rating: 1/5
Genre: SF


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