Review: “Lost Mission,” Joshua James, Daniel Young

Pros: The last quarter gets tense and interesting
Cons: The pacing is all off; so-so characters
Rating: 3 out of 5

I’m a big fan of Joshua James’s “Lucky’s Marines” books, so when I saw he had co-authored the novella Lost Mission (Oblivion) with Daniel Young, I got right on that. It’s the first book in the “Oblivion” trilogy. Lee Saito is a United Earth Federation (UEF) captain who’s being sent on a “peace” mission to the Alliance of Independent Civilizations (AIC–folks who emigrated from earth). However, he’s being sent on a warship that’s bristling with new tech, which he feels sends the wrong message. How’s he supposed to end a 20-year war with the biggest warship the UEF has? Before leaving earth, he and his wife, Beverly, have one last party. Their son, Ben, who’s also in the Navy, is running late and finds himself at the scene of a terrorist attack–one of many that night. Cultists touting “the abyss” and “the Oblivion” manage to kill quite a few people, including Beverly. Lee leaves for his mission anyway, something that Ben, who’s been terribly injured, will never forgive him for. While Lee heads straight into an ambush, Ben finds something on a mysterious data drive that indicates his father’s mission is in terrible danger. He tries to tell someone–anyone–but no one believes him.

There’s a bit of a dropped plot thread from the beginning. There’s a bit about how people with built-in HUDs have “life feeds”, which are basically a recording of their lives uploaded to the internet or whatever they have. It’s something the police can access. Ben finds a few hours of his life feed are missing at the beginning of the book, which he comments just shouldn’t happen, and then it’s never brought up again. Even if it’s going to come back in a later book, it would have been nice to see some indication that it wasn’t a throw-away line.

The prose feels too… careful, for most of the book. It just kind of tiptoes along, and the pace never seems to vary. It’s the narrative equivalent of a monotone. The presence of a couple of infodumps doesn’t help this. The entire tone is monotonous for much of the book. After the hyperactivity of Lucky’s Marines, this is a disappointment.

The characters don’t entirely appeal to me. Lee Saito is probably on stage the most, and yet he’s like a slice of Wonder Bread: bland and uninteresting. Whereas Ben Saito is obnoxious and not entirely likable. Probably the only point-of-view character I liked was PFC Ada Ericsson (a marine).

There are aliens in here, but they seem like they’re meant to be much creepier than they actually are. I feel like this is an attempt at Aliens-style military SF-horror, but it falls woefully short on the horror aspect. Maybe an improvement in pacing and tone would have fixed this. It also would have helped to have more attachment to the characters.

The basic story is good, and I’m still waffling on whether I want to read more of the series since the pacing does pick up in the last quarter of the book. I’m tempted to think that most of what I liked about this book was just the fact that it hits my horror/SF itch, rather than any inherent goodness.

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