1 out of 4 stars
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Reading Solaris Seethes by Janet McNulty was a drag, though reading the notes I kept along the way was rather entertaining. I would rather have spared myself the experience, however. So this is a grand total of 1 out of 4 stars.
Solaris Seethes is the story of Rynah, a purple-skinned, emerald-haired alien whose planet gets destroyed. Her grandfather foresaw this issue, and did some research into a prophesy. He put an artificial intelligence into the space ship Solaris which leads Rynah on a quest for a bunch of MacGuffins, i.e. crystals that have magical properties that are explained away as basically big hard drives that can stabilize the magnetic field of a planet. Or something. In an case, these crystals will totally fix everything. But the destruction of the planet wasn’t an accident, and evil forces are fighting Rynah and her prophesy squad in a race to save the universe.
There are many, many problems with this book, but let’s start with characters. Rynah is our protagonist and she is insufferable. Before her planet blew up she was a security officer at a geo-lab (or rather THE geo-lab, which does stuff with the planet and houses the first of the important MacGuffins, but also ancient texts for some reason? None of this is explored and we don’t spend much time seeing her at her day job before the planet explodes) which obviously explains her ability to fight and generally be the captain of the expedition. Her emotions and motivations yo-yo wildly throughout the book. She’s mad at her grandfather! But no, he left her something when he died, she totally misses him now. She was betrayed! Heartbroken for less than a second, it’s now time for revenge! And she’s just straight up mean to her team and it is not the setup for a meaningful character arc.
To help on her mission Rynah recruits a team of people as dictated by an ancient prophecy. The catch? That team has to come from Earth. So these people are yanked from their lives and all of them except one is totally ok with this and more than happy to save some alien planet from destruction just because Rynah assures them that the bad guys won’t stop until Earth too is destroyed. While I could go through my notes and list out the multitude of problems with all of these characters, in the interest of NO SPOILERS, I will just say this: all of the characters are walking embodiments of cliches. You have the wise scholar who quotes philosophers, the badass warrior with a fridged woman in his past, a shy and mousy high school girl, and an inventor, who is mentioned so little, he doesn’t even get a stereotype to embody. But he’s black, so that’s enough to make the reader forget that he has zero substance! And the ship AI is a petulant child.
The villains are arguably worse. Why do they want to destroy the universe? Unclear. But the crystals together form a powerful weapon capable of just such a destruction, so why not? That’s about as much motivation as we are given. An attempt is made in passing to make the mustache twirling characters more sympathetic, what with those pesky emotions they keep having messing with their goals. Then there is the endless number of lackeys and it’s unclear as to what benefits they were offered to join the venture. And of course the main villain’s right hand man also has a tragic backstory with fridges full of women to explain why he’s so loyal. Why do so many random people want to destroy the universe? Do they all believe in this ancient prophecy? Where do they get all these resources and ships to go out into the universe and twirl their mustaches? We never get an answer, but the implication is that their resources are vast and our protagonists are the plucky underdogs.
I have less issues with the plot than the characters, mostly because it is boring. Not to say that the characters aren’t boring, but there are just more of them to talk about and criticize than the plot. Our protagonists are in a race against the villains to gather the MacGuffins and save the world, so they go to a bunch of planets and fight about it. It is contrived and tries to be everything all at once. Not only is this a space opera, but we also have an ancient prophecy so it’s fantasy too! And time travel! Oh, and there are pirates. Space pirates! The logic here being that if you cram in a bunch of cool stuff, the book will be that much better. Perhaps there is a way to balance all of these elements, but this isn’t it.
The setting of the novel is a complete let down. I love me a space adventure about a team of plucky heroes going out to save the universe but the book was clearly poorly researched and poorly planned. The science was glaringly wrong, and I can say this as someone who has only a vague recollection of science classes from high school and Astro 101 in undergrad (“Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not an astrophysicist!”). But fine, science research is hard. Ok. Then at least the books must have an internal logic to the non-science. Have the technology be consistent and make sense within the universe. The technology and world building of Solaris Seethes is whatever is convenient and vaguely space-y sounding from ship terminology to laser rifles and data crystals.
And now we get to the main problems of the book. The style and lack of consistency. The writing itself was, for a lack of anything better to say - competent and free from grammatical errors. The book was not bad because it was poorly written, it was bad because it was unimaginative in every way possible. Imagine every movie cliche and then mash it all together and you have this book.The emotional tension is shallow: characters do and say things for the sake of DRAMA not because of actual motivation or character development. The action sequences are confusing and no one seems to be in the place where they were previously described to be.
The writing is stale because it feels like you’ve seen it all before. I’m not even talking about creativity here. Not every book can or needs to be revolutionary in its portrayal of a rag-tag team fighting to save the universe, but I expected more from descriptions and dialogue than the same retread ground. There is no unique voice and the text reads like the recitation of a parrot that watched too many movies. Oh and since we’re here: the novel contains the threat of sexual violence and rape, brownface, slut shaming, and slapping. You know, pop culture staples.
As for lack of consistency, the book is never sure if the grass of Rynah’s home planet was emerald or purple or emerald-purple, but all colors are used in its description throughout the book. Taking the MacGuffins has consequences, but only sometimes and when it’s convenient. And if something needs to have happened, don’t worry, we are told the crucial plot point actually happened in annoying parentheticals. Rynah needs some item to do something in the moment? (It’s ok because she picked it up before she left the ship.) Rynah conveniently knows how to do a thing? (It’s ok because she totally learned to do that thing a few years ago, but you’re only learning about it right now.) On all the planets in all the universe the characters just happen to be on one where Rynah’s grandfather’s friend lives and who happens to be crucial to the plot? Yes.
Ultimately, there is no sense of urgency due to the uneven pacing and it’s hard to care about any of the characters or their struggles, or their quest. There is no climax and the book ends abruptly and awkwardly. The fact that it’s the first in a series does not excuse the poor ending.
So what did I like about the book? I liked that Rynah’s hair was green. Despite the cliches I liked the character of Alfric and how he cared about his teammates.
I do suspect that I would have liked the book as a child since I was not in any way discerning back then and didn’t think about whether or not a book is derivative, has legitimate and heartfelt emotional moments, or logical motivations. It has a lot of fight scenes and alien planets and that would have been enough for me as a kid. The simplicity, however, is not a reason to peddle this book to children as there are much better books out there for them to read.
Solaris Seethes (Solaris Saga book 1)
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