by Christopher Mari and Jeremy K. Brown
Too much thinking, not enough action
I was happy to see Ocean of Storms on Kindle First this month, since I enjoy near-science fiction.
(Edited to add: This book would be better as a screenplay skipping the boring inner dialogue and leaving the movie-level action, plus missing action would have to be added for continuity.)
TLDR version: Too much thinking and telling, gaps in logic, not enough action, tons of technobabble, plenty of “goofs,” and little actual science. Boring.
This story has potential, but is a disjointed and boring read. It feels like a mash-up of several movies, plus a lot of unimportant inner dialog. Unfortunately, when true action is needed, the characters usually take a few pages to explain their motivation – and often insert their autobiography – and then somehow things (often illogical things) simply happen.
One problem with the book is anomalies (what IMDB would call “goofs). For example, an archeologist digs up an extensive area of large hidden gullies, big enough that the water rushing through them stirs a wind, and discovers the source of the water, a hidden channel to a lake, all in a few hours separated from his mentor.
Then the heroes hear a helicopter and the wind from it approaching destroys the dig site, wiping out years of work and infuriating our heroes. While we aren’t told the helicopter actually got close or landed, people disembark. Brown notes that it’s good one person arriving is short because they can stand up beside the helicopter and not have their heads hit the rotors. (Those pesky low helicopter rotors decapitate a lot of tall folks while they’re getting out.)
Afterwards our archaeologists, who have spent a month in “a bug-infested tent in the middle of Peru,” relax with “a long workout in the hotel’s weight room, followed by sixty laps in the pool.” But later they have to work to get in shape for the mission because one guy especially likes smoking and drinking. So I’m guessing those sixty laps were in a very small hot tub.
Later Donovan meets Dieckman, who was inspired to a career at NASA by Donovan’s dad. It seems when he was six, his engineer uncle took him to Donovan senior’s “lecture on geologic activity at Fra Mauro.” Does anyone else think a different topic would be more inspiring for a six-year-old?
The lack of logic in this book is irritating, but the amount of time characters spend thinking is worse. The first paragraphs in this book are thinking and backstory, not action; that’s how Jeremy Brown writes. He has a habit of interrupting conversations or action with a character’s inner dialogue. They stop to muse for paragraphs (or pages) about where they came from, why they’re mad at NASA on behalf of their dad, and why they can’t figure out why they wore that color of pants with that awful mustard-yellow tie (okay, I admit that last bit is hyperbole, but only slightly).
There is so much unnecessary backstory and inner angst that it derails the story and brings the action to a screeching halt. But ironically, when it’s important, Brown has a tendency to drop the story thread and jump ahead days, weeks, or months with no explanation. You’re reading along, major actions are foreshadowed, and you suddenly realize the author just skipped ahead and the stuff somehow “happened” because it’s done and past, and our astronaut guys and their support team and hidden mole mission-destroying creep on their way approaching the next action that will not be explained.
Brown seriously needs an editor to tell him when he doesn’t need extraneous backstory. And an editor might help the witty repartee: “A pleasure,” Zell said. “And let me say, if you’re half as good a pilot as you are beautiful, we’re in excellent hands.” She popped her eyes wide and smiled brightly at him. “Gee,” she said in an exaggerated swoon, “that’s such a nice compliment—if it were 1960.” She turned to Donovan. “Nice of you to bring along one of your fossils for show-and-tell.” Yeah, the whole boy-girl thing in this book – and much of the dialogue – is along the level of a middle school reader.
And the whining and complaining is mind-numbing. The heroes and their support team have been promised funding by the president and others. They are mounting a response to a potentially world-wide extinction-level event, yet they spend inordinate amounts of time worrying that their funding will be cut before they finish. While they’re bemoaning potential shortfalls, the rest of humanity goes on rampages, religious or otherwise, destroying and burning cities, looting, murdering, etc., every time something happens on television. The president pontificates, various people whine, and important people do data-dumps of their backstories for us.
I won’t go into the incredible leaps of logic and non-science that are the backbone of this story, because I think it would immediately lead to spoilers. But if Star Trek: The Next Generation pseudo-science babble with glaring scientific errors and magical jargon thingies saving the day annoys you, well, important elements of this story will annoy you. We expect that type of thing in Star Trek because it’s a distant future and future science looks a lot like magic. We expect more of current-day near-science.
Speaking of walls of texts, I’m guilty of that here. So I’ll leave you with a small sample for your reading pleasure. Our villain muses to himself as he picks up his briefcase, walks down a hallway, and opens a door:
“Did he still have it in him to see the project to fruition? All his life he had been willing to take risks, first at NASA and now in the private sector. In order to embrace the future, one had to be willing to dare to imagine, had to accept that morality was merely an excuse for a weakness of will. He had realized that early in life, while he was helping to adapt von Braun’s deadly rockets into a means for humanity’s journey to the heavens. Why should a man like Wernher von Braun have cared that the Nazis had used his rocket designs for the mass murder of thousands of Britons when he knew one day these same rockets would enable men to escape the confines of this planet? To wonder if they should use such devices was a dilemma Walker never considered. They had to be used in order for humanity to progress. If one were to invoke morality, nothing would ever be made. Every tool ever created had proven to have both positive and negative aspects. And what was the point of dithering about morality? If the earliest human beings had done that, none of us would have ever crawled out of the primordial ooze.
Odd, Walker thought as he straightened his tie, odd how something I did so long ago could possibly wreck the futures.
Walker picked up his briefcase and continued down the hall. He wondered if his advancing age was clouding his judgement, not because of any degrading of his faculties, but because he knew most men his age didn’t have the will to do the difficult tasks. [Reviewer note: We’ve been told he’s 80 or 85 years old.] For the first time in his life, he felt the sting of his own mortality. Despite the company doctors’ assurances that he could well live another twenty years, he was envious of the young faces around him who would live to see the world he was helping to create.
Steady yourself, old man, he thought as he opened the door to Dieckman’s secretary’s office, you still have enough will left in your body to get this job done.”
I lied. Here’s an excerpt that I didn’t have the will to resist where one of our heroes, frightened for his life, stops to worry that his friends might want to psychoanalyze him later:
“Donovan had killed a man. He was so concerned with reaching the ship and keeping them alive he had hardly stopped to consider what he had done. He knew it was in self-defense and realized that the hired gun would’ve killed Benny in another second, but he could scarcely imagine that he had just ended a man’s life. He wondered if Zell or Soong would make him talk about it—that is, if they got out of this crater alive. He didn’t want to. He didn’t see much of a point in such discussions.”
(Edited to shorten my own wall of text. May shorten again later, barring interruptions from puppies.)
In the near future, political tensions between the United States and China are at an all-time high. Then a catastrophic explosion on the moon cleaves a vast gash in the lunar surface, and the massive electromagnetic pulse it unleashes obliterates Earth’s electrical infrastructure. To plumb the depths of the newly created lunar fissure and excavate the source of the power surge, the feuding nations are forced to cooperate on a high-risk mission to return mankind to the moon.
Now, a diverse, highly skilled ensemble of astronauts—and a pair of maverick archaeologists plucked from the Peruvian jungle—will brave conspiracy on Earth and disaster in space to make a shocking discovery.
Ocean of Storms is an epic adventure that spans space and time as its heroes race to fulfill an ancient mission that may change the course of humanity’s future.