Scorched Earth by Richard Lee (Book Review)
Rating: 2/5 — Not For Me
Time travel novels are not the norm, at least for me. However, that doesn’t mean that the opportunity shouldn’t be given for them to be a part of popular culture, or at least rank as highly as more common genres such as romance, fantasy or sci-fi.
Although there were some pretty good ideas in Scorched Earth, it was ultimately for naught, however, due to a variety of editing, proofreading and pacing issues that existed from start to finish. An ideal novel for a reader who can look past all of that and see the novel for what it is — a seed of a brilliant idea that could’ve been coaxed from mildly entertaining to a tour de force within the time travel genre. A not-so-ideal novel for readers who hold books to a higher standard and expect excellent editing, good pacing and structured storylines, revealing important information as and when needed.
Different people, different needs, different expectations. Unfortunately, despite the amazing setting for the novel, overall, this just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Fascinating and Exciting Premise
First things first, I love the premise of the book. Good ideas always deserves a mention — and Richard Lee was onto something when he introduced a time travel concept to his novel. As a time travel neophyte, it was fascinating to delve into Lee’s fresh take on such a complex topic, one which is explored a million times over in mediums such as television and movies (think Back to the Future and Avengers: Endgame), but generally not in novels.
In terms of freshness of thought, Lee has hit it out of the park. The seeds of a brilliant concept are there, from Craig travelling into a dystopian future, to the Unspeakables who roam the land, the harsh but realistic setting of a future after nuclear war and a hope of a better tomorrow or a changing past, all play a brilliant part in keeping the reader’s mind engaged, even through the prodigiously slow pacing, to wonder how they would survive if they found their world turned upside down the next day. The seed of a great novel was present in Scorched Earth, along with potentially deadly antagonists, in the form of the Unspeakables and SimTek, and a race to safe the world.
However, an enlightening theme on the verge of greatness is all I can really say about what went right with Scorched Earth. There are more than just a few flaws but the most glaring ones, in my opinion, are the ones below:
Motivated but Mary Sue protagonist
Craig is a nice guy. You root for him, follow him in his quest to find out how he got to the future, the relationships he builds with the folks from Havelock Grove, their journey to SimTek and his quest to change the future. The reader is Craig’s faithful companion, journeying from mild mannered office worker to full fledged Rambo-esque superhero.
It is, however, the most painful of companionships. The beginning was great, showing him to be just another clueless and unlucky soul, an experiment gone wrong, trapped in a future he never wanted, confused and bewildered by what was happening. This quickly turned into a farce, as he seems to be the perfect dystopian soldier. He is skilled in almost every weapon he picks up, is unfazed when faced with Unspeakables and keeps up with others from Havelock Grove, who have had to hone their survivorship skills over several years. Skills which Craig seems to pick up from the word ‘go’.
It is unrealistic and, at best, a grave insult to the other characters in the novel. It diminishes their importance, blunts the potential danger faced by Craig as he ventures in this new world and cuts through the tension of every situation faced by Craig, safe in the knowledge that he is good at everything for some unknown reason.
Pacing, Editing and Structure Way Off
The most glaring error, in my opinion, seems to be the way the novel is structured and worded, with important information being revealed with every turn of the page. I understand that this will be a subjective opinion for most — some prefer face paced plots, others the slow burn of a building saga. I fall into the latter camp.
The reader’s anticipation, curiosity and tension are undercut by the fact that mysteries are constantly being unravelled every few pages. It leaves no room for the reader to have their own thoughts and theories about what is going on, how it’s happening and why it is happening. When all the mysteries are being answered, there’s nothing left for the reader to wonder and, as such, nothing to keep them turning the next page of an increasingly vanilla plot line.
Some of the dialogue choices were quite infantile as well, in my opinion. Sentences were short, crude and to the point. Usually, characters that have experienced much have more eloquent things to say, lessons to impart or secrets to reveal. None of these characters, even the survivors of Havelock Grove, had anything incredibly insightful to impart, other than revealing plot mysteries and saying things that move the story along at a blistering pace. As a self-confessed lover of slow burns, I find this ‘need for speed’ dialogue, pacing and sentence structure very off putting, which made me struggle to even consider finishing the novel near the very end.
A recommendation for those who can ignore it’s flaws and see it as it is — a raw diamond that needed a little polish to make it worth the read. Otherwise, a very forgettable experience.