Saturday, 20 October 2012

Review: Psion Beta

Psion Beta
Psion Beta by Jacob Gowans

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'll be honest, this was a three-star book until near the end.

See, the problem with writing a book which features people from all over the world is that there are at least two traps you can fall into. One is to make all of them sound more or less the same, and like members of your culture. The other is to have them all be stereotypes.

Sadly, this book falls into both traps. Although the Americas, north and south, are the enemy in this book (an interesting and unusual choice), all the kids sound to me like Americans. They don't use highly obvious US slang, but there's enough that to me, a non-American, it's noticeable. The South African main character's favourite sport? American football. (Nobody seems to play soccer.)

Anyone who isn't named as being from a specific country, like the commander, seems generically American too.

At the same time, the kids are a series of stereotypes. The black kid was in trouble with the law (though at least he's not good at basketball). The Scandinavian girl is an attractive blonde. The Irish boy comes from a poor family with ten kids. (He's the only one who seems to have a hint of his own dialect. He often says "I'll tell you" to emphasize his sentences. Personally I don't remember ever hearing an Irish person say this, but maybe it's regional.) The Chinese guy is very serious. (Again, most of the Chinese people I've known have had hilarious senses of humour, but for some reason the serious Chinese guy is a stereotype.) The other African keeps talking about her tribal elders and braids feathers into her hair.

It's difficult to make people distinctive and of a specific culture without using stereotypes, I'll grant you, and at least the protagonist is non-white. His status as the protagonist may save him from the accusation of being a "magical negro", because he's not only got the same genetic superpower as the other kids, he has an extra one that makes him even better. This, along with the fate of his former friends, is something he oddly shows no curiosity about.

That lack of curiosity is one of two issues I had with suspension of disbelief about human behaviour. The other is part of the backstory. There was a devastating plague, and in response, people... became rational, set aside their differences and formed a world government? Um, probably not. Plagues make people afraid, and frightened people don't cooperate well, not spontaneously at least. Perhaps there's more to the story that will come out later in the series, though.

Most of the way through the book, these problems were what I was mainly noticing. The story itself had been decent enough, though a little formulaic, the usual YA teen-romance-rivalry-angst that we've seen many times before, reasonably well done but not groundbreaking. The editing is mostly good, apart from the occasional sentence where the words have been partially, but not fully rearranged, and I only spotted one homophone mistake ("repelled" instead of "rappelled"). That's much better than average for a self-published novel, so I was thinking "three stars, but I probably won't buy the sequel".

I thought I had the ending all figured out, too, but it turned out I didn't. Yes, I correctly predicted that things would go horribly wrong, and when, and approximately how, but the details and the twists were well enough done that they earned another star. And the outcome was not what I predicted.

I do intend to read the sequel, now, simply because of how the book picks up at the end. I just hope that the level of action and excitement the last few chapters reach is sustained in the next volume.

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