Books : reviews

Leo Frankowski.
A Boy and His Tank.
Baen. 1999

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 19 August 2000

New Kashubian involuntary colonist Mickolai Derdowski has been sentenced to death -- or he can go into the army instead. Unsurprisingly, he opts for the latter, and becomes a Tank Observer, spending most of his time inside a VR "coffin" inside his tank. But he is only halfway through his VR training when he gets sent to the frontline -- where death is for real.

There are some potentially nice elements in this -- the weird Kashubian planet of gold, the VR Dream World, the Combat Speed VR college, the whole Heinleinesque chutzpah of the finale. But somehow it doesn't gel for me. The ending is rushed, there's too much of a "tell" rather than "show" style of delivery, and there's way too much adolescent male wish fulfillment fantasy.

Leo Frankowski.
The Fata Morgana.
Baen. 1999

A really short review of Fata Morgana by Leo Frankowski:

It sucked. The pacing sucked. The dialogue sucked. The lack of story sucked. The cookie-cutter characters sucked. It sucked more than a black hole. Don't buy it. Reading it probably isn't worse than gouging your eyes out with a rusty spoon, but it is as bad as reading several of Piers Anthony's auctorial essays about his recent rectal surgery (or whatever) in a row.

The long version of the review: (Includes spoilers....kind of...since nothing happens, and since if features Frankowski's usual More-Competent-Than-God character, there's no real threat of anything happening, but...)

The upshot of the plot (such as it was) is that two engineers, both identical to the other (cosmetic differences talks like one of the Bowery Boys and is a Catholic and the other one doesn't and is an atheist) build a big boat out of concrete after the non-Bowery-Boy's wife divorces him and he goes bankrupt. They go sailing. The boat crashes into a floating island which is the legendary Western Isles. Since the boat just happens to have everything the characters need to be rich and powerful on the island, they decided to stay, but set up a trade empire between the floating island and the outside world. But the eeee-vil Bishop doesn't want his parishioner's precious bodily fluids contaminated by the outside world. The bishop tries to have our heroes snuffed. He fails because, of course, Frankowski's perfect heroes are SO tough that they can beat the snot out of 15 or so young bravos. Eventually our heroes leave in a raft (the Eee-vil bishop sabotages their boat), to bring back supplies and start trading between the outside world and the floating island. Once back, their lawyer tells our hero that A) His ex-wife was in cahoots with the divorce judge and now the judge has been disbarred and he has all his property back. B) He didn't go bankrupt, it was part of his ex-wife's scheme, he actually has multi-millions. So our heroes hire an army, and go back. The duke, impressed by the army has the bishop killed and everyone lives happily ever after.

1) The plot: Nothing happens. No conflict, no growth, no movement, nothing. Our heroes are simply there as events happen, but they're so damned perfect at everything there's no threat. Same problem as with Conrad Stargard from another Frankowski series. A huge chunk of the book involves describing the island and our heroes just happening to have the right part in their inventory to help (The natives are out of beans. A blight killed them off. WHAT a coincidence that our heroes happen to have beans!). Plus the story keeps grinding to a halt as Frankowski lectures his readers on politics.

2) I don't mind being preached at if it's well written. Heinlein's preaching, even when I don't agree with Heinlein, was well written. This is ham-handed in the extreme. And some of Frankowski's opinions are bizarre (I rarely make the assumption that a character's opinions are the same as the author's...however, since two (allegedly) distinct characters keep interrupting the story to spew these opinions, and since no-one in the book challenges or confronts or disagrees with them, I think it's reasonable to make the assumption in this case)

Women have smaller brains and fewer brain cells than they're "less likely to be rational"

Blacks keep changing their group name simply for kicks and grins. And "Nigger" isn't a bad word. Isn't it silly to be upset about being called one?.

Pedophiles=Gays ("...are you some sort of unholy pervert that likes to fondle little boys?" says some guy. "I'm no fucking queer!" replies the hero.)

N.O.W. members are all "dykes" (or at least the leadership is) and they may have hairy legs.

Political correctness is literally an attempt at Voodoo: By changing the name of the problem (Gimpy to Crippled to Challenged) liberals hope to change the physical nature of the problem.
3) Just as things would get interesting (the heroes return with a boatload of goodies for the islanders and we'd get to see culture shock, culture clash etc.) he ends the book.

4) No woman in the book has a personality. They're either an off-camera barracuda (the ex-wife) who's drug addiction, mentioned early on is completely forgotten, or a bland, vaguely subservient shadow.

5) The political lectures are atrocious; two sock-puppets have Socratic dialogues in an annoying "Goofy Gophers" tone: (paraphrased, not quoted)
Char 1: "It IS true, isn't it, that Political Correctness sucks?"
Char 2: "Why YES! It is true that Political Correctness sucks!
Ad nauseam

I got the book used, so I'm pleased that Frankowski didn't get any of my money for this tripe, but I'm tempted to write to Baen books (I usually enjoy Baen books) and demand that they refund the two hours of my life wasted on this book..

NOT recommended, unless you need kindling.

-- Steve Parker, November 2000, rec.arts.sf.written