Dispatches from the Goodreads Reading Challenge Wasteland: Jonathan Maberry’s Predator One

(QUICK NOTE THAT I BEGIN EVERY WASTELAND DISPATCH WITH:

(Last year, 2016, I found myself struggling to get through a book as quickly or with as much enjoyment as I used to.  No shade thrown on those books, but my life had become busier and it was easier to read io9 or cruise my Facebook newsfeed than crack open a book.  I didn’t like that and the Goodreads Reading Challenge seemed like a nifty way to get my head back in the game.  Of course, after setting my challenge, I realized I had way overshot my count in comparison to others–some of them reviewers, for Christ’s sake–so this became what will hopefully be a fun, year-long experiment on crashing and burning.

(But, on a related note, I’ve always wanted to see how I read over the course of a year, what my tastes were depending on the time of year, the circumstances, etc.

(So, here’s Dispatches from the Goodreads Reading Challenge Wastelands.)

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And, oh, look at this–I’ve finished the Joe Ledger series (as far as I can, anyway; there are two more after Predator One, and Maberry’s writing another).  The next book I read in the Wastelands will be a comic-criminal book by Max Booth III–about as far as you can get from the tech-heavy, world-hangs-in-the-balance thriller-isms of Joe Ledger.

For the TL;DR crowd: Joe Ledger’s seventh adventure, Predator One, sees Maberry using a particularly tech-heavy conflict to lay Ledger & Co. low, resulting in a brutal climax that will leave the reader wondering if anyone–even near-sainted Rudy–will have any humanity left after the dust settles.

In my last review, for Code Zero, I said that the novel–marketed as a sequel to series-starter Patient Zero–felt like a continuation of a plot thread initially spooled out in Patient Zero, then continued in The King of Plagues.  By this same logic, Predator One feels like another continuation of that, with the Seven Kings returned, in a way, to menace Ledger and the DMS, further.

Actually, to be honest, out of the seven books, only two aren’t directly connected to one another–The Dragon Factory and Extinction Machine.  The other five novels all continue with this element or that element–either villain or methodology.

The same can be said here.  Predator One posits a sort-of return of the Seven Kings, unleashing what is essentially their Doomsday Scenario (while their plot in The King of Plagues was horrific, it was also controlled; in Predator One, the resulting damage is global).

The story reads in typical Maberry fashion, with a minor (relative to the remainder of the book) event pulling in the DMS and Joe Ledger in an escalating series of traps and set-backs, escalating the action and ratcheting up the tension until the climax explodes.  Seven books in, the reader knows the cast of characters and, even if readers are new to the series, the ease in which Maberry writes of each, along with their backstories, helps the reader climb in.

Predator One, from the perspective of someone reading merely for the action and the tension, is almost more explanatory-heavy than previous efforts; with the plans being deliberately about tech and computers, Maberry can’t just get away with “shit blowing up and computers going SkyNet on all our asses”.  So, there’s more pausing to explain here.  Now, Maberry has always had discussions of what’s causing the events–usually in discussions Ledger has with Dr. Hu or Bug, the DMS’s resident doctor and computer-nerd, respectively.  While the circumstances are similar to prior novels, they take longer and there are more of them so that the events make sense.  This doesn’t detract from the story–y’know, in that way some SF novels have; where the cleverness of whatever idea the writer has overshadows the goddamned story itself–but the reader notices.

The reveal of the Big Bad comes as no surprise, but I have to wonder if it’s supposed to?  They don’t say the name until nearly the end, but the reader puts the pieces together as soon as the character comes into a scene.  It’s vaguely irritating that the story doesn’t acknowledge it until later–but, then again, if everyone involved (except Ledger, who learns the same moment that the story finally names the Big Bad) talked incessantly about the identity, it would come across as hackneyed and forced, and Maberry doesn’t tend to traffic in that.

The brutality of the climax was startling, too, but in a way that makes sense–when the violence is at its fever-pitch, it comes from a place where the heroes are sure they lost, so they just don’t give a fuck, anymore.  It raises interesting questions Maberry might have to answer in later books.

The one wrinkle is the character Nicodemus, first introduced in Assassin’s Code and returning here.  For all the SF-elements, Maberry writes human, grounded stories–everything has an explanation, no matter how far-fetched it might sound.  Nicodemus is, at this point, outwardly the only supernatural element with no ready-made, grounded (ish) explanation and you get the feeling Maberry’s almost writing himself into a corner with the character.  I don’t know if he’s holding back on making Nicodemus the Big Bad of a later book–at this point, he’s merely been a guy on the peripheral–but his presence is fairly jangly.  Because of the world Nicodemus exists in, it feels like a double-edged sword–either sacrifice the grounded nature of the books, or lose the menace that comes from Nicodemus’s seemingly supernatural presence.

But all that will have to (maybe) be answered in later books.  For now–until I get more books in the series–I’m done.

Next, I go down to a surreal version of Texas in Max Booth III’s The Nightly Disease.

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