Friday, February 01, 2013

Sort-of Review: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole

After reading Myke Cole’s debut, Shadow Ops: Control Point (my review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) in 2012, the sequel, Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) immediately became a must-read for me. However I can’t help but notice that everyone else seems to think as highly of Cole as I do – a quick check of blogs that I follow will find that most have reviewed Fortress Frontier already. And generally, I agree with what they say – it’s a great book. It’s an improvement over Control Point, and the new protagonist is one I like a lot better. The world is bigger, the adventure more epic, and the depth of thought is still there. I called Shadow Ops this generation’s The Forever War, and with the sequel, these books really are a story for the current generation, one that struggles with the might of the government, the threat of terrorism, and the loss of freedom. These books make me think.
 
But, the review saturation had sapped my enthusiasm for writing a review. I couldn’t find anything new to add to the conversation. Yep, Cole is awesome, the book is awesome, go read it. Do I really need to say it too?
 
So, I’ve thought about things and then my contribution to the conversation finally clicked into place. I imagine I was somewhat inspired by this review over at Tor.com. There is a short discussion of criticism of the book, which stands out because of the relative lack of them in reviews for Fortress Frontier. The discussion mentions that Cole’s world is a man’s world with relatively few female characters (dare I use the word ‘token’?). Well, that’s not my focus here, but it’s certainly worth noting and discussing in its own right.
 
A common thread through all of those reviews I’ve mentioned above is that they like the protagonist (Colonel Bookbinder) that Cole focuses on in Fortress Frontier a lot better than the protagonist (Oscar) from Shadow Ops. I share this feeling – I enjoyed Bookbinder much more. If you go back and search out reviews of Shadow Ops, the biggest criticism that you’re going to come across is a dislike for Oscar. Take another look at all these reviews I’m mentioning – they are written by white people*. Take a look at Bookbinder (white) and Oscar (black). Now, there are lots of reasons why I think Bookbinder is a character that more can relate to. There are lots of examples of Cole simply improving as a writer. But I’m not going to talk about any of them. I’m simply going to point this out – the near-universal opinion that Bookbinder is a more enjoyable protagonist than Oscar is essentially has a direct correlation to race.
 
Tell me I imagining things. Tell me that it’s a coincidence and not real (after all, remember, I’m a white guy who likes Bookbinder a lot more as well). But, the more I think on it, the more troubled I am about it.
 
And do you know what? This is just one way that Myke Cole’s books have got me thinking. It may not be what he intended (or hell, maybe it is), but it’s there. And it’s yet another reason why people should read his books. In my review of Control Point I compared Cole with Haldeman. I’ll make another comparison now (and I try to never make comparisons in reviews, but I’ve got to mix things up too) – Myke Cole is the most exciting SFF author to come along since Joe Abercrombie. And considering all the great authors that have entered the scene over the past few years, that’s high praise.
 

*Admittedly, just how many SFF review bloggers out there aren’t white?

8 comments:

Paul Weimer said...

I think its a coincidence, and that,if the races were reversed, I would still like Bookbinder more. It's his position in the army, and his story that really resonate with me. His race doesn't figure into that.

Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) said...

Interesting point, and definitely an interesting discussion to raise.

And - thank you for highlighting that paragraph in my Tor.com review.

Bryce L. said...

I actually missed the part where Britton was black until the very end. I went through the whole book thinking he was white and still like Bookbinder more. ...And what it tells about my automatic assumptions is another discussion for later.

I think part of it is that I relate to Bookbinder much better and don't have the same relationship that Britton has with his parents. With BB, I picture having to leave my own family and I think Britton makes some decisions that were just bad. I thought they were excellent for the story, but just things I don't think I could do probably because I'm a pansy.

Neth said...

@Paul - I don't think it can simply said if the races were reversed everything would be the same. Would Cole have written the characters the same? Would the reader's perceptions have been the same? Etc.

@Stefan - no worries. I like Cole's books, but I'm somewhat surprised by the lack of discussion about them.

@Bryce - I agree that many of the reason so many of us like Bookbinder better are that we can relate more to him - solid/happy background, family that he loves and loves him, a desktop job that really isn't dangerous, etc.

But I sitll think that it's all worth noting - as I did.

Bryce L. said...

I agree it's worth noting because how much of what's been said is justification?

Myke Cole said...

I firmly believe that once my writing leaves my desk, it is out of my hands. I can't control what people take from my work, and there is no "wrong" way to read my writing. That said, I do want to go on record saying that it was absolutely *not* my intention to make any racial commentary whatsoever in my fiction. Britton was black and Bookbinder white simply because that is who they are, how those characters formed in my mind.

I welcome discussion and would never stifle it, but I wanted to be sure I am clear on my intentions in writing those characters.

Lastly, thanks for the kind words about my writing. It's very encouraging to know people are this excited about my work. Stuff like this keeps me going.

Neth said...

@Myke

So, how long did you mull over it before finaling deciding that you wanted to add comment here ;)


Anyway, as I mention in the post, the observation I'm making here is much more about how people are reacting to your books than what anything you are trying to say in them.

And no worries on the kind words - you earned them. Keep the good books coming!

peterbound said...

Blah. I think you're stretching for it a bit here. The guy is just more likable, and as you stated, Cole's ability as a writer has improved. I didn't dislike Britton, i just didn't really like him. In the book, his race was almost inconsequential. I sure wish Cole would focus on some Enlisted folks more. I hate all the brass worship that goes on in Fantasy/Sci Fi novels. The Enlisted side is what gets the job done, and are the folks actually doing the missions on the SF side of things. Hell, when you make O4 in any of those MOS's they take you off the teams. I hate that the these books make it look like the officers are the ones doing 'the shit'. Couldn't be farther from the case.

So Mike, if you are reading this. Make your next main character an enlisted slob, or at the bare minimum a warrant.

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