The Package by John C. Scott – Book Review [Bellarius]
With another Nineteen Galaxies novel recently released, Bellarius sees what John C. Scott has in store for readers with The Package.
“A frantic, desperate chase set among the stars which delivers exactly what the blurb promises.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Continuing the saga of the Nineteen Galaxies series, The Package takes an odd shift from the last tale we looked at. Whereas Recon One-Five was more of a Sharpe-esque tale about a military regiment, The Package is more akin to a Star Wars EU novel about the galaxy’s criminal underbelly. It features a man of legendary skill, a package of significant importance, and the sorts of major entanglements only someone of great ability could survive. Said man is the mysterious Samaritan, famed for his skills in surviving against the odds and running blockades, broken by personal tragedy. While drowning his sorrows on the Ark, he is approached by someone seeking his skills in ensuring her return home. As is ever with such things, it soon becomes clear that there is much more at risk than either of their lives…
Being a much smaller focus, the book only follows a handful of characters. Each determined to hunt the other and less concerned about collateral damage or subtlety than ensuring that their objectives are complete. To this end it’s a much less even battle than even previous books, with the Samaritan frequently working with what few resources he has to deflect his pursuers onto more dangerous targets. This, in effect, is one of the best parts of the novel. While by no means the most original idea it does not beat about the bush showing the reader that, while he might be a shadow of his former self, he still knows the tricks of his trade.
It also helps that he is written as a mostly likable character. While obviously addled by his addiction, the book does not go out of its way to turn him into a spiteful figure or someone so unimaginably bitter you want him to fail. It builds up reasons for you to like them before displaying the more damaged aspects of his character and just how haunted he truly is by his failings. While this might sound generic, it’s something oh so many lauded fictional tales keep getting wrong. Usually with an author thinking that somehow making a character utterly unlikable as a result of their personal trauma makes for deep characterisation.
While this hardly makes for complex reading, it allows for the book to maintain focus on the action at hand and make for a very fast read. Quite early on it’s made clear that, despite the themes involved, a great deal of focus is placed on the chase over major character development. It delivers completely upon this, as while it avoids diving headlong into some massive battle without explanation it doesn’t take long for the bullets to start flying.
If anything you reach it quickly despite a great deal of initial establishment thanks to the book’s layout. Lacking the weighty descriptions and massive details you would expect to see in the likes of Graham McNeill’s books, The Package uses a very bare bones style. Sometimes with one sentence per line or brief exchanges presented in an almost script format. While this does hurt the story in a few descriptive aspects and would usually be the first thing on any list of complaints, it somehow works here. With its short chapters, direct plot and fast paced action it makes the book almost perfect for light travel reading. It also definitely helps that there’s been a few major improvements in terms of editing since last time.
All this said however, there are a fair number of flaws which do definitely hold back the tale. Foremost among these is that, while the story is definitely a quick read and easy doing, it does all too often feel as if certain basics have been forgotten. Primarily, too many times there are certain elements which are introduced without proper build-up such as a psychic foe which appears quite early on. It’s not so much that the story is starting in the second act as it feels as if it just sped through too quickly without establishing a few details. Recon One-Five might have done this as well, but at least there we had a long timeline-like introduction to the universe to give an impression of its scale. Here we don’t have that and the story definitely suffers as a result.
Furthermore, more than a few characters do end up have their switches flipped from Smart to Dumb. This definitely harms the story in a few respects, especially when a top assassin, a profession known for their subtlety and dealing with specific targets minus collateral damage, goes on a merry rampage in her introduction. Combined with a distinct lack of impact when it comes to such actions, and some odd choices like a jarring cameo by Caine, it definitely harms the tale’s suspension of disbelief.
Finally, and this is just a minor note, there is one detail which was definitely a poor choice to include. The fate of the Samaritan’s wife feels unnecessarily brutal in a few respects. Death was fine, but what was done prior to that is a subject which needs to be handled very carefully. Throwing it in as it was, it felt extremely unnecessary and almost underplayed in terms of its seriousness. It honestly would have been better in some respects were it removed entirely, leaving her death as an emotionally scarring incident.
While it would by lying to say that The Package sets a high watermark for literature, and is far from perfect, it’s still an enjoyable read. If you like the premise and are looking for something with the usual action/sci-fi tropes but serving as an easy short read for journeys or short bursts. It’s definitely not the best entry point into the universe, giving nowhere near enough establishment of planets or elements, but I can’t help but recommend this one. Its problems are obvious, but you’ll still read it through more than once.