Review by Scott Clifford | Introduction by Kelly O’Dowd
Books, books, books. Some say that print is dead, but here at Pop-Break, we disagree. With more and more novel (and graphic novel) to film adaptations; celebrities writing self-help books and memoirs; not to mention Oprah’s influence to get people to read basically anything, we would be terribly remiss if we ignored the publishing world.
Below is the first of many book reviews that we are excited to share. Along the way we will also be showing a glimpse of our personal lives with books that we love dearly, and think you would too. Not to mention book vs. movie showdowns.
We hope you enjoy this wonderfully new addition to the Pop-Break world! –Kelly O’Dowd, Books Editor
I was very excited when I opened the brown, cushioned envelope that contained my advanced readers’ copy of Patrick Lee’s Runner. I had never read any of the books from his Breach trilogy but a quick Google search gave me dozens of reasons to respect his ability as a writer to please both audiences and critics alike. However after rummaging through the contents my enthusiasm morphed into concern. Marketing materials tried to convince me that I was about to read an “action-packed ride” or a “real page-turner” that was going to be adapted into a blockbuster film. I started to wonder if Runner was going to be a good book that was aware of its genre or if it was going to be glorified early draft of a Hollywood screenplay.
Sam Dryden, the main protagonist of Runner, is a former special operations soldier who is grieving over the deaths of his wife and daughter. As one can imagine, Sam hasn’t been coping very well and has lost most of his friends along with his purpose in life. Things change quickly by the fifth page when Sam runs into a 12 yr. old girl named Rachel who is in danger from a nefarious government organization while suffering from amnesia. The combination of Sam’s spec ops skills and his subconscious desire to be a father again are more than enough for the man to drop everything in order to save her. The result is a novel woven together with action sequences, necessary exposition, and the occasional chapter that shows the perspective of the “bad guys”.
The novel is a present day thriller with a science-fiction twist. Corrupt, private, U.S. defense companies have discovered a hidden human gene that gives powers to some of the population (Rachel). It is a situation where a new version of the atom bomb has been released from the metaphorical Pandora’s box and everyone is rushing to either harness it for his or her own gain or destroy it forever. It’s an idea that is amazing for a more visual medium for a film or anime (look up an anime called Elfen Lied – a show starring a woman with similar powers and amnesia but with a lot more blood and female nudity). It’s also an amazing one for a novel but the writer has to be more descriptive for everything and avoid writing necessary exposition as if it is a bullet points memo. Runner feels as if it is half-baked because Patrick Lee fails to address these things.
Luckily the action sequences are paced well and visually interesting for the most part. Lee is able to flawlessly switch between the perspectives of his characters while going into intricate detail about their decisions and why they make them. One of my favorite sequences in Runner is set on the 83rd floor of the Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois. The sequence is a beautiful symphony of machine gun fire, attack helicopters, and parachuting attempts to fly from one skyscraper to another in order to survive. Lee is also able to successfully write how the characters try to deceive each other in order to get ahead in ways that I can’t describe without giving away huge plot spoilers. My only critique for these sequences is that the author pays so much attention to the guns used in the novel that it distracts the reader from the overall story. His compulsive desire to write every gun model with capital letters and to always go into every detail that reads like a Wikipedia article is distracting more than enlightening. Gun porn is fun but I believe that he should focus more on his characters.
Speaking of the characters, they tend to sit in an interesting paradox that occurs in mainstream novels where one isn’t sure if they are empty shells or extremely relatable or both. The descriptions of everyone in the book are sparse and they tend to quickly fall into well-worn archetypes. They barely avoid boredom by a few arbitrary plot points that explain their true roles in the story. For example one of the characters that is chasing Sam and Rachel is Martin Gaul. He’s a bureaucratic A-type personality that justifies his mission to kill a young girl by repeating the phrase, “bloom where you’re planted” a million times throughout the book. By the end of the novel, the reader realizes that Martin may be a huge jerk but he can at least adapt when the situation changes. His character description is minimal to non-existent at best. Patrick Lee consistently has a hard time or outright refuses to describe anything that isn’t an action scene. Expect to read entire passages that further the plot but are nearly impossible to visualize in your mind. For example, Rachel is a 12 yr. old white girl while Sam is simply a fit guy who “isn’t older than 36.” I understand that this is a pulp action novel. It is a genre that I have loved reading since I was 14 but this lack of description makes it hard to care about any of the characters.
I have to say that Runner is a mediocre to good book, depending on how much one likes this genre, which is a few drafts away from being great. The action is exciting, the sci-fi angle is a pleasant surprise and the character twists keep you from putting the book down. However, Lee fails to follow through on a lot of interesting ideas, and I never cared about any of the characters as I read the novel. I’m sure that any of Lee’s fans who have bothered to read my review think that I’m being a bit of a jerk about this but isn’t that my job? Besides, it’s not as if these problems can’t be addressed. That’s what the blockbuster movie is for.