michelel72 (michelel72) wrote,

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SGA tie-in novel "Homecoming": Mostly better, with worse bits

Hey, guys! I wrote almost five thousand words overnight! … And it's all a book review. And lucky you, here it is.

"Homecoming" is the first book in the "Legacy" series, and I'm not sure how I feel about the prospect of more. There were a few bits I actively liked, quite a lot that really annoyed me, and a plenty of average connecting them.

Anyone who has ever had me beta for them can testify to this: I am far better at calling out what doesn't work for me than I am at praising what does (though I've been working on that). So let me make it clear: Despite the volume of negative commentary and the level of vitriol in what follows, I didn't hate this book. (Make no mistake: Neither did I love it. It was, on balance, okay.)

(If anyone new is thinking of asking me to beta … I'm nicer in my actual beta feedback! Mostly! Honest!)

And so we launch. First, what I actively liked:
- The way Rodney and Radek answer Richard Woolsey's question about whether there's enough power for the hyperdrive. "Yes." "No." "Well, okay, long technical yes that amounts to a practical no." That's my guys!

- The Teyla and Rodney scenes. Awww, they're besties! He's such a great girlfriend! These were very sweet (aside from one noxious element I'll discuss later), and they really show the ways these two have grown to care about and rely on one another.

- The level of detail lavished on Wraith society, as well as the detail of Todd's memory walks. Very cool, and not over-explained.

- The fact that they're heading back to Lantea. So many fics assume they'll head to New Lantea, which has given them little benefit in exchange for a quarantine-triggering atmosphere and lovely diseases, or to some new planet with unknown suitability and dangers. Atlantis thrived on the original Lantea for millennia; the hazards there are long-known; and heck, the whales need the city for protection from the solar eruptions on a rare but recurring basis. The reasoning given here — that Atlantis is known to have left the planet, making it as good a place as any to hide out again — is pretty good, though I'll add that their most recent threat there were the Replicators, who are now gone.

- The scene in which John runs into the control room half in uniform, half in pajamas … and moments later, Rodney races in wearing the same sort of mismatch, but in opposite halves. I'm sure they're not actually parts of the same uniform, but any McSheppers looking for subtext, there you go! Hee.

- The lionization of Elizabeth Weir. It's overdone, and given canon it's historical revisionism, but I'm okay with it. The way they remember Elizabeth is the way Elizabeth should have been anyway: An unparalleled diplomat and devastating negotiator with strong ethics. It frankly crosses into canon violation (unless it's meant to show the degree to which the characters can delude themselves), but as I said, this is one case in which I don't mind.

- The fact that Rodney invited Sam to help with the hyperdrive! That's very cool.

- Rodney's acceptance (on behalf of "the aliens") of a thankful citizenry (sort of) for saving the planet. It tickled me, and it was surprisingly touching.

- The integration of the OC psychologist. That worked well for me.

- The subtle manipulations to keep key personnel accessible, such as by pulling as many as possible to the George Hammond. Those are a nice touch, especially Sam's acknowledgement of Ronon's skills.

- Carson's safety seminar title, "Don't Touch the Glowing Fungus".

- Kitten!!!

And that's pretty much it for active liking.

I want to address the prologue separately, because aside from the elements from it that are listed above, this section put me into a profoundly negative frame of mind that certainly didn't help my reception of the main story.

- Seriously, buy some hyphens already. Please. I'll buy a gross of them for you if you'll just please use them. I shouldn't have to re-read the very first sentence three times because of a missing and critical hyphen.

- I know this is probably a limitation of all tie-in novels, but egads do I hate the convention of hyper-introducing characters we already know. The number of descriptors tagged onto mentions of McKay alone is staggering.

- Let's see how much fail we can count in two paragraphs plus one sentence:
Of course, no one person could stay in the command chair that controlled the city's flight for nine days, not even lost in the piloting trance that the Ancient interfaces fostered. Not even [1] John Sheppard could do that. Lt. Colonel Sheppard had come to Atlantis five and a half years ago at the beginning of the expedition, and the city had come to life at his touch. [*] The City of the Ancients awoke, long-dormant systems coming on slowly when someone with the ATA gene, a descendant of the original builders, came through the Stargate. Atlantis had been left waiting. Though it had waited ten thousand years, humans had returned. [2]

But even [1] Sheppard could not spend nine days in the chair. The Ancients would have designated three pilots, each watching in eight hour [sic] shifts, [3] but the humans from Earth did not have that luxury. [4] Sheppard was First Pilot, and Dr. Carson Beckett, a medical doctor originally from Scotland, [5] was Second. Twelve hour [sic] shifts [6] were grueling, but at least allowed both men time to eat and sleep.

Five days of the journey gone, 20:00 [sic] hours, [7] and Dr. Beckett was in the chair.[…]
Okay, seven. Impressive!

1) Not even the great and powerful ~John Sheppard~. Notice that not only do we get this setup twice, but the first time is structured as an echoed phrase, using the language resonance to magnify the impact. Setting up your main character as just so very shiny and sparkly is gag-inducing.

*) That's a stretch. It's possible that the passage of ATA-enabled people (and note that it was in fact "people" and not just a "person", including at the very least Beckett and Kusanagi) through the Atlantis Stargate reactivated the city, sure, but saying that the city came to life "at his touch" is pushing it. It came to life at the presence of the ATA gene and, as "Rising" made explicitly clear, just about anybody's touch. It's not a blatant error, though, just a footnote.

2) This looks like a simple canon error: The Ancients were not, strictly speaking, humans, so humans can't have "returned" unless you're using Alice in Wonderland "more than nothing" logic. The later full story rectifies the error with some charming intergalactic racism, but we don't have that yet, so in terms of the prologue it's still an apparent error.

3) Oh, dear, it's that time again. We have to remind the authors that we're working in a genre called "science fiction" and that the setting is somewhere called "outer space". I'm confident that the Ancients would have done no such thing. They're in a city that was designed to be a spaceship; yes, it was located on Earth (24-hour cycle) for some amount of time, but it was also located on Lantea (26.5+-hour cycle) for a very long time, and who knows what other planets it's been based on in its very long history. If you're going to deal with the reality of sleep phase disorders, you have a passable reason for the humans to try to maintain a 24-hour cycle, but canon never bothered with that and it almost certainly wouldn't apply to the Ancients. In addition, the Ancients had a slightly higher occurrence of natural ATA-gene carriers, in the sense that 100% is slightly higher than 4%. Tell me they had seven pilots on five-hour shifts, or fifteen on four-hour shifts, or twelve on six-hour shifts, or anything like that, and I'll buy it. Three-by-eight? Bullshit …

4) … but the humans actually could at least manage that much. Remember Dr. Kusanagi? Remember how ~John Sheppard~ and Carson aren't the only gene carriers in the city, or even the only two with decent Chair Interface Aptitude scores? I do, but I seem to be alone in that.

5) I'm red-flagging this as an example of the rampant Americentrism. Sure, the show certainly suffered from that, but the expedition is supposedly international and the American characters wore flag patches just like everyone else. Here, though, non-American characters are called out as part of their hyper-introductions (Carson here, as well as Radek and Rodney within the same prologue, for starters), but we have to just assume that, say, ~John Sheppard~ is American, because we're not told. Because that's the default, right? Ugh.

6) You know what would be less grueling yet allow time for eating and sleeping, if for some unfathomable reason you only acknowledge two pilots? Ten-hour shifts. Because, as noted above, maintaining a 24-hour schedule serves only to highlight the schedule-maker's Earth-centricity … and considering that the expedition hasn't lived on Earth for five years, generally speaking, it wouldn't be in character for them to make that mistake.

7) There's no such thing as "20:00 hours". Your more sensible places might refer to a time as 20:00, to avoid that AM/PM nonsense; military and hospital contexts might use a similar system and refer to "2000 hours". But those are two different systems. And yes, hypersensitivity triggered by rampant densely-packed errors makes me just that petty.

- We then get an extended metaphor explaining that if you're the sort of person who really looks after your car, you notice the little wobbles that others might not notice or might dismiss. And you know, that makes a lot of sense, and it explains perfectly why Rodney and Radek express their concern over the very slight fluctuation in systems they've been intensely maintaining and improving over the past five years. Except for the part where that's not what happens at all. No, you see, this metaphor is used to explain why Carson notices and pays attention. Yes, Carson, the guy we've seen in the Atlantis chair a grand total of perhaps twice before this moment, under duress both times; the guy who loathes using the command chairs and leaps out of them as though goosed at the first opportunity. Meanwhile, Rodney and Radek mock him for bothering to mention such a miniscule fluctuation, when you would think the entire point of having someone in the chair was to notice and report anomalies. I thought that entire sequence was completely inexplicable, but eventually I figured it out: This is all by way of making Carson charmingly rustic and setting the scene for him to be rescued from mockery by … ♪ Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England ♪ whoops, sorry, no, I meant John Sheppard, of course, and his Chekhov's open-beverage-near-delicate-equipment. (We get a second one in the hands of an OC later; neither one actually goes off. They are just so random.) Carson is either so distraught at his treatment or so elated to see John that he manages to sit up twice without sitting or lying back between.

- Incidentally, Carson was so surprised by the wobble that he opened his eyes, which action itself startled the monitoring tech into looking around. Has Carson taken to wearing bells on his eyelids or something, so that a tech with his back turned would know his eyes had opened, or was the tech staring creepily at Carson's unmoving form all this time and looking around guiltily when caught, or was he looking around to see if anyone else saw that because that was so awesome, man, the way he just opened his eyes like that!, or was he looking around for a punchline, or what? I hope you don't care, because we'll never know.

- Once John has checked everything out, soothed ruffled feathers, defended puir wee Carson from those bullying scientists, and wandered off to polish his halo or something, we jump ahead a couple of days to the part where that "wobble" goes boom. The juxtaposition narratively underlines that Rodney and Radek sure were jerks for dismissing Carson so casually! Too bad they weren't competent enough to do their jobs or anything! Too bad it didn't occur to them to trigger John Sheppard's white-knight instincts by keeping their mockery to Carson's choice of terminology but otherwise doing their jobs! Ah well. It's just a spaceship-city hurtling through hyperspace with some four hundred people aboard and allegedly no space-worthy compartments available if the city-spanning parabolic shield should fail. No big.

- Later, in the senior-staff briefing, they bring up the last time they were stranded in space. John makes a comment suggesting he remembers that period, and Teyla remembers those distressing events "all too clearly". But we can't leave it at that; she then has to double back to muse that John must certainly remember them "far too clearly as well". Because god forbid she be allowed to dwell on what something meant to her; ♪ he's allwaaays onnn herrrr miiiiiind ♪ and who cares what Teyla Emmagan thinks, what we all want to know is what ~ John Sheppard ~ thinks!

I like John Sheppard, dammit. Quit trying to make me loathe him!

- Who goes out of their way to add a syllable and say "inhabitable"? I won't say it's wrong, but I'm pretty sure the phrase "habitable planet" is more standard, yet every person in this scene chooses the former. Weird.

- And finally: "Five months earlier". … I hate you. Sure, it's network-compliant, but why you gotta be like that? Whyyyyyy? ::sob:: — okay, though, for serious, it isn't quite as profoundly annoying in print, at least as presented here, because the second I saw "prologue" and waded through the first sentence, I suspected, so I paged ahead to look for that tag. It is still cheap, though. It also required a minor info-dump that Sam then had to repeat later, which just bogs down the flow.

Whew. So that was the prologue. Funny thing about the opening section of a narrative: That's the part I'm reading most closely and the part that sets my receptivity for what follows. Anyway, moving on.

I feared that I was in for five months' worth of political wrangling, given the setup, but luckily that was only a few chapters. (That sort of thing is fine, but it's not anything I personally want to read.) Thanks to Jack's maneuvering, claiming Atlantis as an Air Force base because it's in US waters, the IOA goes from demanding Atlantis remain on Earth to defend the planet and be dismantled (… um, sure) to demanding that it be moved to international watersto internationally neutral Antarctica, the city's former Earth locationto a low-energy orbit in internationally neutral near-Earth space … back to the nine-days-away Pegasus galaxy. As you do.

As part of this, Woolsey makes a speech announcing the IOA's original decision to keep Atlantis on Earth:
"And since that is their final decision, our mission is over." Woolsey's voice seemed to gain strength. "You have all performed admirably, and mankind will never know what they owe you, the happy few. It may never be revealed in your lifetime what you have done. And yet you stand tall among all those children of humanity who have striven for knowledge, and to aid their fellow men." He looked around the gateroom, as though fixing it in his memory one last time. "We are the children of the Ancients. We are their legacy. And we should be proud of what we have done here."
Okay, now I freely admit I'm no Shakespeare scholar, so if the book is right and I'm wrong, I'm fine with that. But Woolsey later says to Teyla, "Did you like the speech? It was Henry IV. The quotation, I mean." And I was immediately thrown out, because the only bit I recognized was "happy few", and I know that from Kenneth Branagh Henry V. Is there actually a passage in Henry IV that fits this claim, or did the writers seriously misattribute a reference from Henry V as a quotation from Henry IV? Considering they also use that modified reference in the dedication, that would be really quite tragic. Of all people, I really shouldn't be the one to catch something like that, trust me. Or was Woolsey somehow trying to offer an impossibly obscure political wink to someone who would have no cultural reason to make the connection in a conversation in which he is otherwise striving mightily to sell the drama? (Don't even try to tell me that, because: No.)

The copyediting throughout is sketchy. Mid-sentence apposite phrases need commas on both sides, dear copyeditor. No, really. And if that's gibberish, don't take copyediting work. Also, when you shop for hyphens, pick up a pack of serial commas as well. The hyphen famine persists. The President of the United States usually, but not always, gets a capital "P". The nonsensical "ok" is briefly rendered as the passable "OK" before reverting. Comma splices are far too frequent. Woolsey speaks of "inheiritors".

Those "inheiritors", by the way? They're part of his argument that the expedition must go back to help the people of Pegasus … because they're genetically linked to Earth. It's not enough that they're people, after all; they have to be the right kind of people for President Fauxbama to be persuaded to bother. Because this franchise just didn't have enough interplanetary racism. Bonus points for making Woolsey call the people of Pegasus "our brothers and sisters" to introduce his genetics-based point to the President.

Woolsey, by the way, is called "Dick" throughout. That is not his name. He referred to himself that way all of once in the entire history of the franchise, in a moment in which he was feeling shot down romantically. Picardo even discussed the fact that Woolsey was not a "Dick" in an interview. Who am I going to believe, the actor who played the role for years or the people who make plots depend on shields the jumpers don't have yet?

It's not really my thing, but I found the image of John in full uniform but with the addition of Torren in a sling kind of cute … until Carson opined that the sight would "make women ovulate". Barfy, sexist OOC TMI FTW! At least he didn't say their ovaries would explode; that would have been both tackier and, given the fate of Original Recipe Carson, unforgivable. The fact that my mind was sent there anyway by the existing phrasing? Yeah, that's not beneficial to the story.

I didn't anticipate John bonding with the Russian boor, and I liked that twist, until again that was curdled, this time by John's decision to handle the boor's persistent ogling of and commentary about Teyla by claiming she is his wife. Not that he's her husband or anything, no, and certainly not that he's good friends with her husband; he's got territory to mark here, so just lie back and let the piss wash over you. He does have the grace to apologize afterwards, but of course Teyla doesn't mind. Why should she mind his assuming the role he thinks is filled by someone she loves, without even asking her? Shucks, he's just lookin' out fer her. She tells John and Woolsey over and over that she's just delighted for them to exploit her appearance and her dignity for the sake of their common goal.

And that brings us to the point that utterly disgusted me. Grab your favorite anti-emetics, folks.

I've mentioned that I adore the Teyla & Rodney scenes. They're wonderful. They do go into Teyla's relationship with Kanaan, though, and that element gets nasty quick. Teyla explains that she and Kanaan got together for mutual comfort, not really planning anything longer-term, but the kidnapping of the Athosians complicated matters. She points out that she and Rodney might have come to a similar juncture, and that in either case, there is mutual affection but not a long-term romance situation.

To a brief glance, that looks like a way to dismiss the importance of Kanaan in order to bolster the John/Teyla ship. A lot of True Shippers seem to think that any occurrence of actual love outside the True Ship is heresy, and that it must be shown for the falsehood it is in order for the True Ship to sail unencumbered by icky things like attachments to other people. How each reader reacts to that trope will vary; I find it immature, but I can live with this sort of approach to it (in preference to the "I thought I knew love before you, but I was wrong!" or "I've never really known true love until you" approaches, for two horrid examples).

This also looks like the setup of the remarkably tired romance trope in which the True Lovers are kept apart by a Tragic Misunderstanding that would be easily resolved if they would only talk to one another — or even, in this case, if Rodney would simply blurt out, "Sheppard thinks you picked Kanaan over him, so go kiss him already so he'll stop moping." I find that trope more actively annoying, but it pales in comparison to what's really going on here.

Teyla feels no shame in having enjoyed comfort sex with a long-term friend; she makes that clear, and she also makes clear that she trusts Dr. Rodney "Socially Impaired" McKay to understand. Yet she fears that others in the expedition, including John, would … what, label her a slut? That's the only conclusion I can draw here.

She thinks that little of John? She has that little trust in him? That's just awful. And yet, rather than suggesting he take a long walk off the East Pier, she somehow still values his good opinion enough to insist that Rodney not tell John the truth of her relationship with Kanaan. And maybe that makes an unhappy kind of sense, given that he's an important ally, but … ugh. She insists to John and Woolsey that they use her, in conversations that veer uncomfortably close to prostitution parallels, yet she thinks John would condemn her for daring to have sex for her own comfort if she wasn't planning to conform to an American 1950s heterocentric pair-bonding ideal she didn't even encounter until she was in her thirties, and she thinks that sort of judgment deserves coddling.

That's just nauseating. And that's not the Teyla nor the John I know and love.

We've also got characters continuing to be stupid in the field. They go to a planet that they know requires an hour's hike just to get to the trading post; we're never told why they waste two hours just in round-trip transit rather than taking a jumper. It's probably not a terrain-based reason, since they follow a trail across tall grasses and low hills, and this village an hour away from the gate somehow knows when the gate opens, since the low-tech villagers normally gather 'round upon being alerted by the opening of the gate, which means they must have fantastic sight-lines. The team also doesn't call for a backup jumper when heading for New Athos and its two-mile hike, even when they arrive to a mysteriously quiet setting and sure could use some speed getting to the settlement to find out what the hell is up.

What happens to Rodney at the end is really kind of ironic, considering the ways they've been trying to get rid of him all along, from back in season two through their visit to Manaria here. Only the four of them are present, and yet again we have a disabled DHD, so Rodney sets about repairing it … and the other three split up to explore the ruins. "John is a closet D&D geek", my ass. Rodney then calls over the radio to say they've got visitors, and Ronon's response is "Wraith?" Well, gee, geniuses, if you'd left somebody to guard the guy who's busy repairing the DHD, you'd know that without having the bonus knowledge that said Wraith are preparing to eat said Chief Scientist. Luckily, this time it's just survivors, and they aren't desperate enough to attack Rodney, though they significantly outnumber him. Maybe the team was cursed by some Ancient device so that the only way they can keep Rodney safe is to leave him alone, and that explains the final sequence? Or, alternately, FFS.

Speaking of FFS, they also send Keller and Beckett to another planet on a medical mission. Alone. This isn't just Beckett doing his wandering-atoning-missionary schtick; now you've sent the Chief Medical Officer and her valuable medical supplies out to be stolen. Which, surprise! I'm so shocked that they're attacked and robbed. Shocked I say. And it's totally reasonable that Jennifer saw no problem with this arrangement. Excuse me, sir, but the Bola Kai are on the line, and they're asking, "WTF, dude?"

I have to admit, I really am shocked that the authors killed Jennifer off like that, having her forget the gate shield and therefore splatting into dust against it. Except, oh wait, the authors forgot the gate shield too. Lucky Jennifer! Good thing Captain Canon Error swept in to save her!

Queen Death is either stupid in her youth or another canon error. The Wraith were awakened early and therefore short on humans to feed on from the very beginning of the show; the Replicators then came up with the nastily brilliant tactic of blowing up more humans just to deprive the Wraith of food. So Queenie's unifying strategy is to destroy human settlements, leaving most of the humans dead in the streets rather than bothering to feed off them and negating that breeding pool … all because she is going to play the Adama card and declare she'll lead her people to that mystical planet Earth, even though she doesn't even need a Roslin to be all "There's no 'Earth'" because she's not even claiming to have the Secret Map to Earth and all of the Wraith already know they don't yet know how to get there. Her magnetism must be off the hook, yo, because without that, the other Wraith would turn on her, because her grand scheme is so far idiotic. Todd/Guide shouldn't be the only one to see that; she'd better have a kick-ass actual scheme in following books.

The Battle for Levanna is useful as a plot climax, though for a battle it's weirdly calm and muted. It's reasonable that the locals don't yet know the term "Pyrrhic victory", but even so, you'd think they'd show some reaction to the fact they'll now have to race to evacuate the entire planet, since the Wraith response to humans who can fight back is to pulverize them with overwhelming force (or just bomb them from orbit; it's the only way to be sure, you know). Given that they would have done that even in their isolated old days, when a single hive or two could shatter Sateda, and Queenie can now call on probably a dozen of these apparently weak-sauce hive ships and clearly has no aversion to a scorched-earth policy, you'd think at least one Levannan might point out that they've lost their planet completely now and maybe even make a little bit of a frowny face, but apparently that's left as an exercise for the reader. Or, you know, is yet another canon error and we're meant to think the Levannans actually won for good.

[ETA: I forgot about this, but Woolsey has a three-way conference call with Sheppard at Levanna and Radim ... somewhere, lamenting that the gateroom is the only place they can "maintain the three-way contact". (I must have been distracted by the rare correct use of a hyphen.) How is such a contact maintained at all? The wormhole could be open to Levanna or to the Genii homeworld, but not both, so what the hell is carrying the second signal in apparent realtime to Atlantis's location at the raggedy edge of the galaxy? This is apparently a mystery for the ages.]

And right after Rodney and Radek point out that Atlantis can't afford the energy cost of people flapping the outside doors open all the time in their new frigid environment, Teyla goes out of her way to do just that, with no excuse or even explanation given (unlike the later passage when she needs fresh air and finds that the doors open only a grudgingly narrow amount). The stupidity, it's rampant and it's threaded throughout, waiting to spring on the reader just when some actual momentum has managed to build up.

There are other minor annoyances and flow-interrupting quibbles (the kitchens aren't fired up until they land? Why? "Planetary winter", huh? So this planet gets its seasons not from axial tilt, the way Earth does, but from a highly elliptical orbit? Or is that just another flub? Sora is back to being a basket case, long after her cathartic fight and then pax with Teyla … why, particularly?), but I only had one other especial objection. I see I've been remarkably restrained, for me, with the foul language, so cover your ears or have a seat, because I'm gonna let loose here for a second.

On page 164, OC Dr. Robinson and John Sheppard are looking down at the planet they're about to land on:
"Big ice caps," she said.

He nodded. "Really big ice caps. They're coming down to fifty degrees above the equator. Our viable landing area is only within twenty degrees of the equator either way."

"Do me a favor and spell that out for me," she said with a smile. "Not a scientist, remember?"

"The seas are frozen, and just south of the ice caps there's significant sea ice," John said. "We need to stay close to the equator, what would be, say, roughly the area between South Florida and Rio de Janiero."

"Tropical," she said.

"What would be tropical on Earth. Here it's just about inhabitable."
Seriously? Seriously? She's a fucking psychologist! Rodney is not around to contest the fact that that does, in fact, make her a scientist! Which is leaving aside the little matter that the concept of latitudes is not exactly advanced astrophysics! I had been assuming that your OC was at least Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, and now you're making her dumber than toast! Oh, and also, you remember who in this scene is actually not a scientist? John fucking Sheppard! If you want to spell out the location in Earth terms, just have her ask him to remind her about where that would be in Earth terms! Holy fuck, y'all!

::deep breath:: Okay. Done. Sorry about that.

Anyway: Other than that? The book's … meh, okay. Not overly annoyed I read it at all; wouldn't bother to read it again.

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Tags: curmudgeon, reviews, reviews:books

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