And So Began the War by Ian Hollis (Book Review)
Rating: 4/5 — Amazing Sci Fi trip ruined by chosen book format
To me, robots and sci-fi go hand in hand as an obvious natural pairing. Take the futuristic elements that come with talking and walking robots, the conflict of robots armed to the teeth and humans having a growing fear of mechanical dominancy, and the philosophical questions that abound from the relationship between flesh and gear, and you get an amazing sci-fi hit that’s just waiting for stardom.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this genre pairing has been picked up in recent times. Aside from visual mediums (think Terminator, Transformers and Gundam), there isn’t much exploration as to how the robot sci-fi genre could fit in a book format. For those wondering what it would be like to have a futuristic, mechanical world set in a pseudo-English historical backdrop, with loads of interesting mechs and engaging human companions, then Ian Hollis has the book for you.
And So Began The War has so much going for it — a read that one can immediately identify as being a smash hit for the sci-fi genre. The breadth of the world, the detail he provides about each faction, robot and person in the novel, as well as the carefully created overall plot of the novel, deserves a huge mention. The only thing that holds it back from achieving a perfect rating, in my book, is due to the chosen format of the novel. The manner in which sentences are structured, where dialogue takes precedence above all else, and the speed at which the story is conveyed, would look far more familiar as a script rather than a tome.
Regardless, if one can look past that faux pas, it’s a sci fi epic for robot nerds everywhere and I, for one, am dying for a sequel.
An Amazingly Crafted and Playful World
Every sci-fi epic needs a sprawling world, a chaotic playground in which the characters can truly find themselves. With respect to this aspect, And So Began The War does not dissapoint. From the Lesser Continent to the Greater and Fourth Continent. Ian Hollis keeps the naming conventions for his country states easy to follow. The world he’s crafted, however, is anything but easy. State governments, systems and societies all differ among each continent, all united by their love of everything mechanical, whether that love has a sinister element to it or not.
Away from geography, the history that Ian has managed to weave through all the pages, with the legend of The First Five Robots being a consistent theme that plays an important role in the overall plot of the novel, being an especially interesting aspect of the novel, for me, as I sought to learn more about the legends, to broaden my understanding of the events that are transpiring with each turn of the page.
It takes an experienced and passionate mind to make convoluted ideas, themes and cultures simple to follow and Ian has nailed it in this novel. An amazing, sprawling world that all readers can enjoy with the flip of each, individual page.
Robots, Robots Everywhere
The main selling point of the novel, however, is what definitely hit it on the head for me. Robots. I mean, just the word itself conjures up childhood memories of watching Saturday morning cartoons, like Transformers, with breakfast in hand, mouth agape and mind blown by the sheer ‘technological marvel’ of Optimus turning into a truck every couple of minutes.
Here, the technological marvels are well and truly revealed with every chapter, with every new character met, and every new continent explored. As with any mech-inspired sci-fi novel, robots take the main stage in Ian’s novel and, by God, there are so many of them! Robots that come in all shapes and sizes, of all cultures and backgrounds, whether peaceful or aggressive, whether helpful or ambitious, whether possessing a soul or not.
The presence of robots as being more than just merely nuts and bolts slapped together and walking around the protagonists, instead being thrusted forward as the protagonists, in and of itself is incredibly refreshing. Following the adventures of robots instead of their human companions, such as the amiable Dalfor, the multiple Donovan robots or even the gentle and friendly Herbert (who is more than meets the eye in this novel) has been a treat and a half, and I can’t wait to see where these characters end up in the sequel to come.
More Script Than Novel
Despite the engrossing story, engaging theme and the excitement that naturally comes with the word ‘robot!’, I felt that there were aspects of the novel that just let me down. Personally, I am not a huge fan of scripts that pretend to be novels (which is why The Cursed Child was a really difficult read for me). Like pineapple on pizza, everything has its place and every place has its thing. Scripts should not be called a book, and books should not be called scripts.
The script-likeness of the novel is a major turn off for me. Emphasis on dialogue is so heavy handed, that I felt like I was just reading a constant conversation between the same two people in every chapter, even if the characters all switch around, depending on which point of view is being explored then. Dialogue is great, but without the explorative potential that books give you, the exposition dumps that gives readers more information and kindles their imagination, the subtle emotional and character descriptive nuances one can just tease with an adjective or noun, robs the novel of some of it’s potential to be great.
If you can look past the weird choice of making it more script than novel, then this sci-fi war epic, with robots of all shapes and sizes, is definitely a recommended read for fans of the genre everywhere.