Saturday Book Review – Shark Boats by Leo Champion

Before I start the review, a few words from me in my admin hat. We’re going to start doing reviews once a month, probably the second Saturday of the month. We will not be taking requests, but if there’s something you’d like to review, feel free to write up a review and send it to me, Sarah, Amanda, or Dave. Reviews don’t have to be books, or fiction, but if you review movies, games, non-fiction, or whatever, please relate what you’re reviewing to some aspect of writing craft.

Shark Boats is not a book I would have picked up off a shelf – and I would have been poorer for it. Readers familiar with Col. Kratman’s books in the Desert Called Peace universe will note a certain similarity to the world building in the sense that Shark Boats uses a colony world where the technology level is relatively similar to our own, although the means by which the Shark Boats universe arrived there is quite different, and the feel is much more akin to the early phases of World War II than Col. Kratman’s works.

Shark Boats is primarily military science fiction, a subgenre that normally doesn’t appeal to me. It’s also about as Human Wave as you can get without sticking on a flashing neon sign that says “Read me! I’m Human Wave!” (Please don’t. That’s just tacky.) The plot centers around two men, one on either side of the nascent war, their motivations and the events that drive them into a collision course.

Jack Reiner is a kid from the streets made good and an officer in the United Southern Colonies Reserve. He’s also quickly and cleanly drawn as a sympathetic character who readers will want to see triumph. When his marine escort squadron is destroyed and the survivors murdered. A small piece of good luck sees Reiner and the embedded journalist as the sole survivors of the slaughter, and from there the action continues at a pace somewhere between breathtaking and exhilarating while Reiner tries to catch the man who ordered the massacre.

The man in charge of the slaughter, Hector Chavez, is a True Believer in the Communist cause. Champion could easily have made Chavez a cartoon Communist Villain and the book would still have worked. Instead, Chavez and all the Communist military are drawn as humans. Some believe, some just do their job because it’s their job. They’re all clearly people – even Chavez, as the effective villain of the book, has sympathetic traits.

Hell, even in the short time he has focus, the leader of the communist revolution is a believable human – an idealist who is gradually corrupted by his unrealistic beliefs and the things he has to do to bring about his People’s Republic. This, in my view, is one of the greatest strengths of the novel: while Champion never loses sight of who his audience should be supporting, he includes supporting characters on both sides who are as varied and human as you’d find in a real war, right down to the incompetent career officers and self-interested politicians Reiner deals with during the course of the story.

Champion’s style is clean to the point of minimalist, but with a lot of depth layered into the apparently sparse prose. There are no weaknesses anywhere in this book: the world-building, while not staggeringly original, is solid and believable. The characters are brilliantly drawn and the plot is a tightly threaded mixture of adventure, political intrigue, and understated romance (both in the old sense and the modern sense).

I thoroughly recommend it.

8 thoughts on “Saturday Book Review – Shark Boats by Leo Champion

  1. ” There are no weaknesses anywhere in this book: the world-building, while not staggeringly original, is solid and believable.”

    I believe the biggest weakness in many books is that the author is attempting to be ‘original.’ Being truly original and believable at the same time is hard to do, there are a lot of novels, movies, etc. out there, if you manage to come up with something so truly original as to not remind a reader of something else, chances are that is because it is totally unbelievable.

    1. Agreed. Trying too hard to be original tends to happen at the expense of other things. In this book, it’s original enough. It does feel rather Kratman-esque at first, but for me that only lasted as long as it took for me to be completely sucked in.

      I finished the book at some ungodly late hour (for me) and then gave the author the nicest possible compliment by cussing him out for keeping me awake with a book I couldn’t put down 😉

  2. Oh noes! I thought that a “Read Me I’m Human Wave” sticker (gold foil, natch) was a super idea! (But I also think the cover of Vorpatril’s Alliance with the people on it was pretty good, so… )

      1. I didn’t like the people on the cover so much. The man didn’t look like the Ivan in my head (of course, the Ivan in my head had been blond until A Civil Campaign, although I’m certain she described him earlier… it’s just that *any* Ivan in my head is blond.) But after I thought about it a bit I decided that Ivan in-the-book really is a pick up artist and the fact that he’s cultivated the persona of a professional ne’er do well (as his survival strategy is entirely opposite of Miles’s survival strategy) meant that a smarmy womanizer pose was appropriate. I think that if I were composing the thing, though, I’d have had the blue lady leaning over the back of the sofa instead of dancing, which just looks dumb. Still, bottom line… I think that people on covers, while risky, is more appealing than a tasteful skiffy city-scape.

        I know why people like the tasteful covers, I just doubt that they work as *covers* as well as people like to think that they do. The non-character cover is really nice, pretty, tasteful, and all that, but does it say anything at all about the book other than “this is futuristic”? The cover with people on it says more; that it’s futuristic and the main character is a player and that there are sexy women and at least one of them is blue so maybe there are aliens or people are genetically engineered. It also, sort of, brings to mind the covers Baen is running for Flandry (?) reissues, so if one is familiar with that you also get a hint of “galactic agent of the empire” or some such.

        I suppose that someone could do a study, lay a bunch of books across a table and see which ones different people pick up to look at more closely as they walk by. Tell them the study is about something else and leave them stuck in a line that runs past the table.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: