Ace/Putnam, 1996, 256 pages, C$30.95 hc, ISBN 0-399-14131-6
I must have Lemming genes somewhere in my DNA.
Otherwise, who else to explain me reading this book? I have heard, time and time again, the maxim that novels “written” by Star Trek actors are generally beyond bad. Heck, I even wrote that in a previous review.
And yet, I still bought Man o’ War. The fact that I paid 50c for a good-quality hardcover at a charity sale is a pretty sad rationalization for what was, after all, an unexplainable poor choice.
Let’s review facts, shall we? William Shatner is a Montreal-born actor whose greatest claim to fame is the starring role of “Captain Kirk” in the most famous Science-Fiction television series, “Star Trek”. Even though the series lasted only three years, it gained a huge cult following that eventually made it a cultural icon, along with Shatner.
In the early nineties, Shatner “wrote” a rather fun novel called “Tekwar”. The quotes around “wrote” are important, given that most insiders credit SF author Ron Goulart with the novel and subsequent series. To say that the first novel was fun in no way implies that it was good; the sequels went downhill from there, both in quality and enjoyment.
Man o’ War is not related to the Tek series. Here, the hero is Benton Hawkes, ace diplomat. As the book begins, he’s just made the biggest mistake of his life: taking the side of the poor oppressed people against the big evil corporation in delicate negotiations. As punishment, Hawkes is sent to Mars, where colonists are allegedly revolting against the government. Gee! Is he going to be able to defuse the situation?
There’s nothing terribly original in the above outline, and there’s even less originality in the actual novel. Between the nicely-designed cover minimally illustrated by Bob Eggleton, we don’t get much more than ink on paper in actual real value.
It’s a real sign of trouble when the action scenes in an action-oriented book are more boring than what surrounds them. In fact, they’re handled with so much ennui that we practically feel revulsion for the protagonist while he’s dispatching the opposition: Why so much bloodshed when Hawkes himself isn’t worth our interest?
And so on and so forth: There’s nothing remotely interesting in Goulart’s, er, Shatner’s future, neither on Earth nor Mars. Man o’ War is a complete waste of time.
But the novel descends even further in mediocrity by a blatant disregard for anything resembling solid economics, basic physics or simple logic.
Economics: The novel will try to make you believe that Mars is able to produce vital quantities of foodstuff for Earth. Uh? What about the costs of shipping the stuff? Why should the colonists be oppressed if they hold Earth’s stomach in a grip?
Physics: The Earth-Mars trip takes a dozen days. Uh-huh. Right. Wait, there’s more! Like unexplained artificial gravity on the ship. Or even -that’s where my already-well-stretched suspension-of-disbelief snapped-, in Chapter 37, Hawkes phones up an acquaintance on Earth… and start talking in real-time. Okay, everyone associated with this book: it’s time to go back to high-school physics!
Logic: The Evil Guys ships hundreds of soldiers to Mars -casually disregarding expenses- in hope of fermenting a rebellion. Why the heck? Why not just pay the darn colonists?
Anyway… Stay away from Man o’ War. It’s one of the best example of pure garbage produced by a gaggle of people without the slightest respect for A> Science-Fiction, B> Your Money and C> Your Intelligence. This goes far beyond the Curse of Star Trek Actors-cum-Novelists: It’s a literary debacle of INDEPENDENCE-DAYesque proportions. There are no redeeming features to this book. And my review will stop there, because now I’m getting really angry.