“Outsiders” by W. C. Collier

This is a hard book to review, because while I enjoyed the story and the characters, there are serious flaws in the writing which reduced my pleasure considerably. Basically, this writer is a marvellous storyteller with little idea of how to write a book.

Let’s start out with the strong points. I really liked the two main characters. Constantine ticks all the boxes for the typical military-action story hero. Strong, intelligent, thoughtful, and caring where it counts, despite the violence and cruelty of his job. Melody is his female civilian opposite: while intelligent and caring, she is also weak, naïve and frightened. It is a pleasure to watch her grow and change through the story until she becomes the person who can carry out the action of the climactic conflict at the end.

The other strength of this story is the immaculate detail of the description of the many battle sequences. This writer has the military jargon and procedures down pat and manages to infuse the cold, emotionless radio patter of a fighting unit with a great deal of suspense.

The plotline involves a standard setup: an outside-the-fences quasi-government agency searching for…whatever. Since this is Sci-Fi, the problem is a uber-powerful AI working under the security radar on the Internet, with a possible alien agent who may or may not be on the side of the good guys. There is lots of high-level tech, but it is well described for the layperson.

Now we get to the problems. Chapter One is a long, tense battle scene, with all the high-tech weaponry, screaming bullets and exploding equipment that we expect from the Action-Adventure genre. So far so good. Chapter Two is so different that I checked the Contents to see if I was reading a book of short stories. It’s all about the inner angst of an introspective nerd, worrying about her relationship with her new boyfriend.

Thematically, this tale gives the opportunity for discussion of the violent nature of humans and their penchant for violent entertainment, nicely contrasted to the real violence of the battle scenes. Unfortunately, Melody’s introspective nature takes over this discussion, and the action stops for several pages while she thinks about it.

There are other minor writing flaws, like misused words (An action is foreordained or destined; “foredestined” is not a word), which distracts the reader from the story.  Also, a very loose control of point of view, which fragments our emotional contact with the characters. It is especially problematic in the climactic scene, which we see from too many angles, losing the intimate emotional contact of a single character’s reactions.

Which brings us to the end, which was such a disappointing conclusion that I wondered if a chapter had been left off.

In general, a seriously flawed execution of what could be a great book.

 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

This review was originally posted on Reedsy Discovery.

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