Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review: Random Factor

Book Review: 'Random Factor' by Joel Henry Sherman

2 / 5 Stars

‘Random Factor’ (329 pp) was published by Ballantine / Del Rey in April, 1991; the cover artwork is by Paul Chadwick.

The book is comprised of two alternating narratives. One narrative deals with Casey Rourke, a soldier of fortune / jack of all trades whose assignment as a bodyguard to a diplomat goes awry. Rourke winds up taking on a job as the head manager, or 'Factor', for the Mael Station, a corporate-owned space station located in the distant, economically isolated southern arm of the galaxy.

The other narrative deals with a female alien named Rem Il Leera, a member of the Col race occupying a planetary system close to Mael Station. The Col have the physical form of an oversize amoeba, and infiltrate the bodies of semi-sentient animals residing on the Col home planet. This sort of benign parasitism allows the Col to perform physical activities otherwise unachievable in their native form.

There is ferment in the Col empire, as two strong-willed males are vying for control of the Col’s destiny. One male has entered into a clandestine alliance with a race of aggressive aliens, the Oolanian Unity, to control access to Mael Station. His rival dispatches Rem Il Leera to uncover the details of this conspiracy.

As the intrigue among the Col unfolds, it intrudes on the security of Mael Station and Casey Rourke’s well-being. In the absence of a space fleet to defend the Station from the designs of the Col and the Oolanian Unity, Casey Rourke will have to rely on guile and subterfuge to protect the Station and its populace. In essence, he is the ‘random factor’ that the Oolanian’s strategic plan has neglected to consider……

Author Sherman published two sf novels, and a number of short stories, in the 80s and early 90s. ‘Factor’ was his second novel, and it’s not a very accessible read.

This is due in large part to the author’s rigid adherence to the ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ mantra of fiction writing. 

Too many of the initial chapters of the book contain these types of sentences:

Gark looked up at the arching branches of the gunthath tree and listened to the cries of the beetha roaming its branches. His symbiont sniffed the air, pheromones of aggression starting to rise in its bloodstream.

What exactly is taking place here ? Who or what is Gark.....who or what is the 'beetha', and why is Gark bothering to hunt it......who or what is his 'symbiont'....why is the symbiont getting aggressive.....and what does this have to do with the plot ? 

Devoid of sufficient explication, these passages really don’t give the reader a coherent sense of what is taking place. The result is that the reader is laboriously forced to plow on through the narrative, relying on conversational asides, and irregular snatches of descriptive prose, to disclose who exactly Gark is; why he’s examining the gunthath tree; what his ‘symbiont’ is, etc., etc.

At times ‘Factor’ does overcome its obtuse prose structure, and becomes something of an entertaining read.

However, the buy-in to get to that point is, I suspect, too high to entice most readers to pick up this book.

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