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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Children No More" by Mark Van Name (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Mark L. Van Name Website
Order "Children No More" HERE or HERE (ebook)
Read Nine Chapters from the Novel
Read FBC Review of Overthrowing Heaven

INTRODUCTION: Mark Van Name's debut "One Jump Ahead" introduced Jon Moore mercenary ex-soldier and a man of many secrets that are so dangerous that he must live alone and make no attachments, and partner Lobo, personal AI warship (PCAV) mooning as park statue/exhibition on an obscure world at the time, an AI ship of many secrets that would not do for anyone to know.

The novel was a no-holds barred page turner that made me a big fan of the series. While "One Jump Ahead" introduced us to the universe of the series which is today's writ large on a Galactic scale, "Slanted Jack" focused a lot on Jon's background and naturally "Overthrowing Heaven" dealt with Lobo's past.

In "Children No More" the author returns to Jon's past as a child soldier, intertwining that story with a tense present time thread of rescuing and rehabilitating child soldiers on a poverty stricken planet in which Jon gets involved against his better judgment at the pleas of a friend.

As the afterword of the novel mentions, the author has been interested in this subject for a long time and with this book he both decided to spotlight the traumas of children that are taught to kill as well as to materially contribute to the cause of rehabilitating them. Check HERE for more details:

"Baen Books writer Mark Van Name is donating 100% of his proceeds from the hardcover sales of his new novel, Children No More, to charity Falling Whistles to help rehabilitate and reintegrate child soldiers in the Congo. The book's official release date is August 3, and it should be available for pre-order at your favorite bookseller."

As a side note, there is another powerful sf novel that deals with the subject of child soldiers, Effendi by JC Grimwood, the second installment in the author's superb alt-history trilogy Arabesque (Pashazade, Effendi, Felaheen) and if you like "Children No More", I also strongly suggest to try that one too.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Children No More" stands at about 400 pages divided into 70 numbered chapters and with an afterword. Jon narrates, while the action splits between the present and Jon's mission to help rescues child soldiers on a back-of-beyond obscure planet and the past and Jon's own experiences as a child more than a century ago.

Many interesting characters from the earlier novels like "Slanted" Jack, Alissa Lim and Maggie - the mystery woman that Jon took a shine to earlier but could not get too close since she is linked with his past - appear also in the book.

"Children No More" is a sf adventure that continues with brio the series using some of its past elements to add more mysteries to its universe as well as bring more depth to our hero, but at the same time it is a story with a message too.

ANALYSIS: The fourth Jon&Lobo adventure is the "least adventurous" and most introspective of all and it works extremely well. "Children No More" is mostly about Jon confronting his personal demons and trying to do good for once rather than just do the mission, get paid and leave. However as we learned in earlier installments the purposes and results of even a seemingly straightforward "good mission" constitute a tricky thing to judge in the amoral universe of power politics and money created by the author.

"Children No More" does not pull punches about the realities of children indoctrinated to kill:

"This devil helped the Tumani government kill your parents," the large man said.
Easily the same two meters tall that I am, but at least twenty kilos heavier than my own hundred, the copper-skinned man spoke in a booming voice that matched well with his size.
"Are you going to let him get away with that crime—with all those crimes?"
One boy stepped forward, then another, and another, and in seconds all of them were racing forward, yelling and waving their fists. They fell upon the prisoner like a tsunami breaking on a shore. The recorder rushed after them, lagging most of the boys but now with them, a fist waving in front of the image, one more fist to join the barrage pummeling the captive, who no longer moved."

As it does not about Jon's own past experiences either:

"Ben­ny was on­ly a kid, a kid no old­er than I was, a kid with flip­pers for low­er arms and feet, a kid younger than many of the oth­ers, and yet he re­al­ly was their lead­er. He showed up, and they thought ev­ery­thing was bet­ter, even though noth­ing had changed.

“Did you hear them?” I said, the anger surg­ing in­to me again. “They don't un­der­stand. I on­ly now re­al­ized that they've nev­er un­der­stood. This is all a big game to them—maybe not a fun game, def­inite­ly a scary one, but still a game. Even though you've told them that some of them may die, they've nev­er re­al­ly got­ten it.”

“And you have?” he said.


“You've un­der­stood what it's like to beat some­one with your fists un­til they're un­con­scious,” he said, “or to stab him re­peat­ed­ly with your knife un­til he falls, or to slice his throat and watch him die. You un­der­stand all that.”"

But not all is grim since there is action galore, the interactions between Jon and Maggie have the same wistful "what if" undertone, while the famous trickster "Slanted" Jack steals the show whenever he appears. The back-story is super-poignant and Jon's childhood friends on the isolated island that served as a camp for the undesirable and unfit and it was fittingly called Dump - Benny, Alex, Han - are quite unforgettable as are some of the children in the present.

"Children No More" (A+) is a truly accomplished novel that goes beyond the "gung-ho" adventure style of the series so far and raises it one notch. I am truly curious where the series goes next and I hope we get to see more Jon and Lobo and start touching on some of the big-picture mysteries like the "Gates" that allow ftl or the fate of Jon's planet still quarantined after 100+ years, though I plan to follow it for the duration whatever the stories Mark Van Name wishes to tell..



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