The Return, Buzz Aldrin & John Barnes

Forge, 2000, 352 pages, C$32.00 hc, ISBN 0-312-87424-3

Note from your reviewer: In these chronicles, I usually try to review every single new SF book I read.  Alas, The Return is the type of satisfying thriller that doesn’t really warrant much extended critical thought. So, to get me out of my writing block loop, allow me to meta-review the five reviews currently up on Amazon.com.

Amazon.com: Old-school moonwalker Buzz Aldrin teams up again with former Hugo and Nebula Awards nominee John Barnes (…)

Barnes hasn’t, unfortunately, fulfilled much of the promise he had shown earlier with such books as the massive Mother of Storms, the excellent A MIllion Open Doors, the juvenile Orbital Resonance or even his two first undistinguished novels that seemed to prefigure a strong socio-SF writer. His last few books have been a depressing sequel, a men’s adventure trilogy, an anthology and two unconvincing novels (Finity and Candle, both severely evaluated by critics.)

(…) the duo’s previous effort, 1996’s Encounter with Tiber (…)

To be fair, The Return is a lot more fun that Encounter with Tiber. Shorter, snappier, more interesting.

Part thriller, part infomercial for the Aldrin space manifesto,

…which only matters if you known about Aldrin’s commercial interests.

The New York Times Book Review, Gerald Jonas: The Return offers dovetailing accounts of a space emergency and rescue by three narrators … who sound like the same person.

Ouch! True, though.

f. from Massachusetts, USA: I enjoyed the beginning of this book. It started with a bang, and then just sort of fizzled out for me. The background, the launch and the “accident” I found interesting. It was the tedium of the aftermath that I found dull. The lawsuits, the guilt, the lawyers, that followed…yawn.

Oooohhh, there we disagree. The first chapters is nearly perfunctory; it brings the characters to the interesting situation. And this interesting situation is how, realistically, a private business would have to deal with disaster in space. That means media, lawsuits and lawyers. For all its faults, The Return has an air of realism that’s very well done.

(On the other hand, the book gets more an more far-fetched as it goes along and ventures from SF to techno-thriller.)

D.W from Rochester, New York: The first chapter of this book is AWFUL: a press conference with a smug first-person narrator just cramming back story down our throats.

Well… as I was saying…

After that, though, it really does get moving nicely, and by the end you do share Aldrin’s enthusiasm for getting us back into space.

Absolutely. There is no question that The Return is pro-space propaganda, and it does work quite well. There is a point in the novel where they essentially take away space’s practical benefit to modern society, and the desperation of everyone is real.

(…) and perhaps the most beautiful book I’ve seen in a while, with a translucent dust-jacket overtop of a glossy hard cover.

Eeek! No way! The dust jacket is translucent plastic, true, but the design is atrocious and, believe it or not, all the price, blurb, UPC information plus the author and title is only on the dust jacket. There is nothing on the glossy-bound book itself but an illustration! That, to me, is an unacceptable betrayal of the role of a dust jacket—to separate marketing from book, leaving title and author for “serious” library-builders. I can’t imagine the pain of shelving dust-jacket-free copies of this book. I really hope this doesn’t become a trend.

E.L. from West Palm Beach, FL: THE RETURN covers techno thriller territory familiar for readers of ENCOUNTER WITH TIBER.

Well, apart from the interstellar flights and the aliens…

D.S from Los Angeles California: The story tends to wander between courtroom intrigue, nostalgic family drama and techno thriller. (…) It is a fast and easy read at times exciting with the technical side explained in simple terms. A pleasant way to spend some summer reading time.

There really isn’t much more to say after that.

So what have we learned from this meta-reviewing exercise?

  1. Amazon.com readers know what they’re talking about. Usually.
  2. You can totally distort someone’s opinion with careful editing.
  3. Modern SF reviewers can steal stuff like never before
  4. The Return: Worth a look, but nothing overly impressive.

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