Book review: Guardian Ship by Mark Wayne McGinnis

For a book with quite a high rating at Goodreads, this one was a disappointment.  I couldn’t decide whether the author included all the most cringe-worthy tropes as a way to introduce humor to the otherwise bleak book, or whether he was being serious.  The story and characters were formulaic, and any character development or twists were telegraphed miles ahead.  If anything, this book serves as a good example at how to write a successful, but soulless story.

Dominic is a highly decorated war veteran who fell on hard times after he returned back to New York City.  His marriage is falling apart, his work is dangerous and unfulfilling, and he moonlights for the Italian mafia as an enforcer to pay his gambling debts.  He also has a suicidal streak, which leads him into situations where he can’t back out from.  One such situation happened when he saw two thugs beating another person to death.  He intervened and rescued that person, who turned out to be an alien, sent to earth to observe humanity, in order to determine whether we were worth saving from the Wikk, an alien race that sees people like we see cattle: tasty.

A little while later, Dominic gets into trouble again, when he intervenes in a domestic dispute and is shot though the heart.  The alien collects his body, grows him a new heart and in the process pumps his body full of nanobots to make him faster and stronger.  While Dom is recovering, the news breaks that an alien ship is spotted on its way to Earth, resulting in worldwide panic.  Dom is informed that these are the Wikk, and soon he watches as they send down assault ships and herd unlucky bystanders inside, to eat them later (some are eaten on the spot).  He forms a ragtag group from his old mob crew and convinces the alien to drive them up to the Wikk ship to bring the fight to the enemy.

Once abroad, all hell breaks loose, resulting in deaths, captures, rescues and a lot of angry bugs – both in the form of hostile aliens and hostile janitors, and ultimately in the destruction of the Wikk spacecraft.  By that time, however, an even bigger Wikk ship had arrived, and Dom and his crew bring their fight there, to complete their task.

From the very beginning, I suspected I was in for a very by-the-numbers book that would bring few, if any surprises.  The reader is immediately introduced to the good alien’s ship as being invisible and able to pass through walls and other solid objects, which later proves to be a wonderful coincidence as it allows Dom’s crew to infiltrate the Wikk ship unseen, and even move along the vessel.  The ship also has a robot that can seemingly take on an entire army in hand-to-hand combat, an A.I. that can infiltrate computer systems of other races, and a supply of special pills that give the humans on board expert knowledge of anything they want.  Dom, for example, “learned” all human languages that way.

The coincidences don’t end there.  Dom just so happens to rescue the alien on the verge of his death.  He also happens to be close to divorce, which his wife conveniently mentions to him, as another woman, his childhood crush, witnesses.  This helps to set up a little bit of romantic tension and increase the stakes down the road, as Dom and his new love interest are both on the infiltration team.  This would work well if the marital problems weren’t written in such an obvious, formulaic way.

Speaking of obvious, I also had a problem with the Wikk aliens.  They are depicted as oversized mantis-like creatures, with ravenous appetite and hive mentality.  Their aggression even towards each other makes me wonder how their race could make it out of the stone age, much less develop advanced space travel.  They almost seem like a caricature of alien tropes.  Their predictable mentality and actions don’t do the Wikk any favors, either.

Finally, there’s the premise that one marine, one police officer and a few mobsters could take on a few thousand alien creatures that seem to be built for close combat.  And not only these; they then take the fight to an even bigger ship, even though the solution to defeat that ship had been telegraphed from several chapters away, and it hinges on yet another amazing coincidence.  I love military books where a group of highly trained people face overwhelming odds and ultimately prevail, but in this case the odds were too overwhelming, the people not trained and the cost they had to pay for their victory was minimal.  The way it was written, I didn’t worry about the characters, either, even before I realized that almost everybody would make it out alive.

On the positive side, the reader can take this book as an excellent example of a simple formula that works well for simple masses.  The action flows almost constantly, with a few short pauses that bracket the three acts of the story.  The author doesn’t waste the readers’ time with needless background stories of secondary characters, and instead very efficiently outlines just enough for the reader to know, to empathize with the good guys.  The reader doesn’t need to think too hard about the mechanics of the actual combat or how physics works in the book’s universe.  In fact, full suspension of disbelief may be required to enjoy this book.

I may have sounded a little harsh towards this book, but there is a reason for it: in a sense, Guardian Ship reminded me of the Expeditionary Force series by Craig Alanson, which I also skewered in a review.  In both times, you have a group of humans facing overwhelming odds, and in both cases, they are miraculously rescued by an external alien factor, which is nearly omnipotent.  To me, this indicates an ambitious author that writes his characters into an impossible situation and then resolves their problem with a very unlikely, even lazy, solution.  The hook is very strong and compelling, the resolution disappointing.  That said, I can see how fans of Alanson’s books may like Guardian Ship, but for me this was a largely unfulfilling and forgettable read.

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