Ark Royal by Christopher Nuttall is so bad, it is bad. I can't for the life of me reconcile the five star reviews with the book that sits in front of me. This isn't so much Space Opera as Space Karaoke, a pale,limp and uninspired imitation of a genre that has been blessed by far more talented hands such as Herbert, Simmons, Reynolds, et al. This book is more Dan Brown in space. Turgid writing, etch-a-sketched characters and action so leaden it defies logic. It takes a rare form of talent to be able to turn military science fiction into something this dull! But the writer has succeeded. Hats off to you sir, well done!!!
Where oh, where to start? Ah yes, the plot. Aged battleship considered obsolete actually turns out to be man's redemption in the fight against invaders by being able to throw bits of rock really fast. Excellent, what's next? Ah, characters! The crew is made up of interchangeable stereotypes. The captain is a drunk but transforms into the strong stoic leader, the second in command is ambitious and wants his own command but tows the line, the fighter ace that has problems at home, ad infinitum. Now repeat these descriptions every 20 pages or so to fill in the time between the dull as ditchwater space battles. Repetition of these is NOT character development, it is repetition. It gets dull very, very quickly.
And that's just the men. Women, in the context of this narrative, are seen purely through the looking glass of sexism in that they are frequently described as weak or stupid in comparison to their male counterparts with a toe curling air of subservience. Add to that the constant referencing of attractiveness and you begin to wonder about how the author actually views women. This is definitely a universe where men are MEN and women are irrelevant. Add to this the vague undertones of xenophobia that permeate this book and you start to realise how atrocious this actually is. There's a distinct whiff of how utterly brilliant the UK is and how everyone else is a bit rubbish but redeemable if only they would conform to our standards. It is, to quote some British vernacular, "a bit pony and trap".
So, what about the action then? Is it exciting? Is it riveting? Errr...no would be the answer. I was reading this outside in the garden and the squirrels racing through the tree branches were having more fun than me. Hell, even the ants were seeing more action! The key selling point should have been the battles between the eponymous ship and the aliens but these are described in such a clinical and dispassionate way that I couldn't help but think "skip to the end!" And then you come to the (literally) indescribable enemy. I lost count of the number of times that the word "alien" was used. At one point I lost it completely and started shouting "Get a Thesaurus!! It's a book with words that have a similar meaning. Use it!!"
Well, that aside, the aliens are described as "ugly" and vaguely humanoid and leathery. And that is about it. I think. I'm sure there was some sort of medical examination that took place in which more information was divulged but by that point I was feeling like the dog in one of those Gary Larson cartoons. You know, the one where it has a man pointing at a dog with the title "what you say to a dog" followed by "what the dog hears". In this case it was "Blah, Blah, Blah, Alien, Blah, Alien, Alien, Alien, Alien, Blah, Blah." I think the point I really lost it was when the **** ship was described as being made from "unobtanium" or some such rubbish. You then have to factor in the technology as well which is just laughable. I think I would have been more excited and enthused if it had been titled "UK vs Giant Spheres of DOOM". I particularly like the idea of tramlines in space. It's a really good analogy for the actual novel as a whole: Doddering, rickety, slow moving and gets you from point A to Z missing out all the bits in between.
I can't believe I parted with my own money for this. It is basically science fiction for people who don't like science fiction, reading, plot, characterization, originality, style or logic for that matter. It is an "experience" to read (or endure depending on your viewpoint I suppose!) but judging by his audience there are lots of people who like his stuff so fair play to him. He's just not my cup of tea!