Tuesday, September 18, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour: The Return Day Two

CSSF Blog Tour

So today I'm going to talk about the 2 1/2 things that bothered me about The Return by Austin Boyd. In this discussion, spoilers are going to be zinging around like crazy. You have been warned. If you haven't read the books and don't want the plot to be ruined, especially the ending of the story, stop reading now. Jump down to the bottom and go visit the other blog tour participants or something. Come back after you've read and enjoyed the books and see if you agree with me. I won't be offended. Honest.

Okay, now that they're gone, let's talk about the things that bugged me about the way the trilogy ended.

First of all, there's what I call the Joseph Dodge. At the end of The Proof, Amy Wells and her children, the family of hero John Wells, are supposedly killed when a terrorist shoots down a helicopter carrying them and the Vice President. John is crushed by their deaths.

But hold on! It turns out that Amy and company aren't really dead! Look-alikes had taken their place and the real Wells family were spirited off to a compound run by the nefarious Father Malcolm Raines.

I have to say, when I first read that, I was salivating. I loved it. Why had Raines spared Amy? My mind filled in the blanks: earlier in The Proof, Amy had smashed Raines in a televised debate about his beliefs concerning the Father Race. Perhaps Raines, rather than be infuriated, was attracted to Amy's fire. Perhaps he had her kidnaped so he could work his charm on her and possibly try to claim her as his own.

But then it was revealed that it was the Father Race (or rather, the people behind the Father Race) who wanted Amy Wells kidnaped. And so I speculated as to why that would be. Perhaps they knew that John, after making the journey home from Mars alone, wouldn't return to the red planet and so they "killed" his family so he'd have nothing left and the way would be clear for him to return. Why did they want him back there? I had no idea but couldn't wait to find out.

So what did I find out? Nothing. Boyd never wrapped up this plotline. He never explained what the motivation was for faking the death of Amy Wells and family and keeping them alive. Oh, sure, God wanted it to happen so Amy could witness to Monique and then all the clone girls could be saved, but that's not why Malcolm Raines or the Father Race would want them kidnaped.

Worse than that, Boyd drew a big red circle around this lack of motive not once, but twice, by likening the situation to Joseph in Egypt (the first time in the story itself, the second in the faux article in the appendix). Truth be told, I hadn't noticed the lack of motive until Boyd pointed it out. That only made me frustrated because as I finished the book, I was left asking, "Hey yeah! What was that all about?"

From where I'm sitting, going to the trouble of saving Amy Wells and keeping her and her children alive for six years (if memory serves) makes no sense unless the bad guys had a larger purpose. If they had one, we should know what it is.

Besides, the Joseph connection doesn't really pan out. Yes, Joseph's brothers meant Joseph's slavery for evil, just as the Father Race people meant Amy's kidnaping for evil as well. But the difference is, we know why Joseph's brothers did what they did! We're told what their motive is, which makes the revelation that God intended it for good so much more powerful.

As it stands, the Joseph Dodge in The Return seems more like a deus ex machina than anything else. Why did they spare Amy Wells? What was their reasoning? I'll never know, unfortunately, and that left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth.

The second thing I didn't like didn't help either, and that's what I call the 3-2-1 Muddle.

Already in The Evidence, we learn that whoever is behind the whole plot has an obsession with the numerical sequence of 3-2-1. John Wells comes up with a whole list of 3-2-1 appearances in the end of The Return.

As I was reading the trilogy, I was expecting some sort of evil genius to be behind the whole plot, someone for whom the 3-2-1 sequence had special meaning. That's why the number kept popping up everywhere. Whoever was doing it was putting his or her signature on every event, either for spiritual reasons (it has to be there for it to work) or for egomaniacal reasons ("I'm signing my name to every event and no one will figure it out!"). I thought maybe this individual was doing this because he believed himself to be descended of the Father Race and was going to populate Mars with people made in his own image.

But then we find out the whole plot was cooked up by the Chinese in the end of the book. They sponsored the terrorist attacks. They built the spiderwalkers. They funded Raines's cult. They helped create the clones and were going to harvest them for biotechnological research. At the same time, we found out that Rex Edwards was the one who was obsessed with 3-2-1, yet as near as I could tell, Edwards was just a harmless dupe, a true believer in the Father Race who was used by the Chinese government to perpetrate this massive fraud.

When I learned that, I think I nearly drowned in cognitive dissonance. If Rex Edwards had been the egomaniacal individual behind the cult, behind the aliens, behind everything, then the 3-2-1 fingerprint would make sense. But if the Chinese were ultimately responsible, why would they orchestrate everything so it centers around 3-2-1? It wouldn't make sense for them.

I almost got the impression that Boyd intended to hang the blame on Rex Edwards, but then sometime between The Proof and The Return, he had a change of heart. He didn't want to do that to Rex for whatever reason and shifted the blame to the Chinese. I don't know that's what he did for sure, but it felt that way.

Here's part of the reason why the Chinese as the perpetrators doesn't sit well with me: the plot is too grandiose! If all they were after was a leg up on the biotechnology boom, why go through the elaborate hoax? Why reveal their 321 clones to the world when they know that Western nations might object? Why create fake aliens the way they did? Sure, it might damage Christianity in China, but if the hoax is revealed, wouldn't that have the opposite effect?

It just didn't sit well with me. I would much rather have found out that Rex Edwards, mad with power and money, was behind the whole plot because to me, that would have made more sense.

And the half-gripe I have, well, it doesn't have a fancy name. It's just this: I wish that Boyd hadn't lifted the curtain on the hoax right away. It might have made the ride a little more interesting if he didn't reveal the nature of the aliens so early. It would have been more fun, I think, if he left the possibility that the aliens were real open and only revealed how the whole plot hung together in the last book.

It'd be kind of like my favorite Christian novel, A Skeleton in God's Closet. In that book, a group of archaeologists discover what they believe is the mortal remains of Jesus Christ. Throughout the whole book, the reader is left hoping that it all turns out to be fake, but Dr. Paul Maier, the author, doesn't let you off the hook until the very end. It ratcheted up the tension for the book because you're always asking yourself, "What if it's real? How could it be real? Where's he going with this?"

I think the same might have helped the Mars Hill Classified Series a little. If we were left to wonder if the aliens were real or not, it would have made the grand reveal of the plotters in the end that much more exciting and climactic.

Now, having said all this, that doesn't mean that I didn't like the books. I loved them. I'm glad I read them. I just wish things had been a little more tight in the last book so I wouldn't be left thinking, "I liked these books, but...." I just wish I could get rid of that "but."

But enough from me. Go check out what the other participants are up to:

Trish Anderson
Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Lisa Cromwell
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Merrie Destefano or Alien Dream
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Christopher Hopper
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Dawn King
Tina Kulesa
Rachel Marks
Karen McSpadden
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
Lyn Perry
Deena Peterson
Cheryl Russel
Chawna Schroeder
Mirtika Schultz
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise


Becky said...

Thanks for the warning--I'll be back when I finish book 3. Would be HORRIBLE to spoil the end this late in the game.

BTW, with a Technorati ranking of 65, I think you may need to rename your blog, John. ;-)


Merrie Destefano said...

Interesting points. I haven't read The Return yet. But your review raises some questions.


Becky said...

John, I finally made it back to read what it was you didn't like. I have to agree. While I loved the series as a whole, there were things about this last book that disappointed. Not the least was the 3-2-1 "solution" and the Chinese as ultimate bad guys. It reminded me of Randy Ingermanson's Double Vision. Wonderful story, until the end. I went through the whole book trying to figure out which of the three scientists was actually a traitor--or maybe it was someone close to them. NOPE. It was the government. I think. I was so distraught, I can't even remember for sure. LOL

I guess it turned out to be a good thing I didn't finish the book in time to do my review for CSFF. Ha!