Jet! by Phil Phoenix – Book Review [Bellarius]

Jet_science_fiction

Bellarius sits down to look at another release in the science fiction genre, this time JET! by Phil Phoenix.

“Despite good elements, JET’s ideas are unrefined and the execution lacklustre.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

To say that JET! is a novel of contradictory elements would be putting things lightly. This is the case of a book which is trying to move in one direction, but has too many ideas and authorial touches which ultimately prevent it from developing as it should have done. This can best be seen in certain aspects surrounding the protagonist, as well as how his story is set up.

Following the tale of a disastrous exploration mission to a foreign world, Captain Sirk Notaani finds himself marooned beyond all help. Surrounded by dangerous wildlife and his vessel left in ruins by the crash, Sirk must traverse the hostile landscape and survive. The questions of whether he will see his family again lurk at the forefront of his mind, as does the one detail which left the world singled out for his mission: The possibility of it harbouring humanoid life…

While the idea overall is good enough, it’s fairly obvious where it hits a number of stumbling points. Chief among them are the novel’s overall tone. From the pages it seems as if JET! was written for an enjoyably camp style, however it seems as if the plot was trapped between two different variants of camp. From the various technobabble, presentation of a hostile world and (among other things) fights with giant alien beetles this could have been something like Forbidden Planet. With the foul language, descriptions, details of survival and the harshness of the planet, plus Sirk’s taste in music, it could have been something in the vein of Fallout.

The problem is that neither of these work together. There is not enough focus or experience behind the writing to juggle these two elements, and the book is only at its strongest when one theme manages to completely override the other. Unfortunately these moments are uncommon, with chapters constantly shifting between one idea or the other. Also because Sirk keeps talking. A very unfortunate trend within the writing is the non-stop swearing which manages to make the average Quentin Tarantino film look conservative. There are honestly paragraphs of dialogue which contain more f-bombs than there are commas and, well, see for yourself:

““Yeah John, what is it?” he asked sleepily.

“Uh… I thought you oughta know mate, um… Tranter’s put you on a DC!” replied John reluctantly, fully expecting Sirk’s reaction.

“Tell that piece of shit I’ll kick his bollocks, whether they’re holding his ears apart or not!” John decided on balance not inform Tranter of Sirk’s intention. Given Tranter’s mood, he might find himself on a charge, merely for passing the message on.

“I can’t tell him that!” said John reluctantly.

“Put me on a direct line, mate – I’ll fuckin’ tell him myself!”

“Christ almighty, Sirk… steady on mate, you’ll land yourself right in the shit if you do that!””

To say this is juvenile would be an understatement of a titanic proportion. As would any effort to impress upon you just how badly this destroys any efforts to build up atmosphere in any scene, with every single character replacing interesting or detailed dialogue with relentless cursing. As with the above problem, there is the odd moment this might have worked had they been alone, but they simply drown in the endless sea of “fuck!” “shit!”, exclamation marks and “bastards!”

These are only minor quibbles in comparison to the book’s more pressing issues however: The fact it seems to have been written with the author having not learnt many basics when it comes to writing novels.

For starters, far too frequently information is told to the reader rather than truly shown. Rather than giving descriptions of the sun beating down upon the earth or the protagonist having difficulty with the heat, the book more prominently relies upon using statistics. Temperatures and certain details will often be delivered in numbers rather than a more emotive or effective form, with such descriptions often feeling lacking. While there are times where descriptions are used to good effect, it’s often just not enough with information, once again, being told to the reader rather than described.

However, what really sinks this whole thing is the sheer lack of reincorporation or the use of establishment. The entire opening and everything leading up to landing on the world feels rushed and out of place. Opening with Sirk returning from a sparring match, it reads as if it were intended for something several chapters in, and everything from there on almost looks as if it was squashed down to fit a miniscule page count. Everything from the exchange quoted above to Sirk meeting with his wife are woefully ineffective in building the world or even giving much reason to care about the characters. Far too many basic narrative aspects are simply missing to make the story effective from the start.

There is some very raw talent on display here and there are times when you can see a decent story amid bad decisions. Some fleeting moments are definitely good enough to warrant some interest and for all its failings, JET! still remains far above the Maradonia Saga in terms of quality. Admittedly, that’s still not saying much.

If you are interested in reading JET! for yourself, it’s currently on sale at Amazon.com with a preview of the opening pages. Just make sure you read what it contains before handing over any cash.

Verdict: 1.5/10

Bellarius

Long time reader of novels, occasional writer of science fiction and critic of many things; Bellarius has seen some of the best and worst the genre has to offer.
Find more of his reviews and occasional rants here:
http://thegoodthebadtheinsulting.blogspot.co.uk/