A painfully honest review of the hard sci-fi first encounter Bootstrap series, books 1 and 2 by Mauri Niininen.
NOTE: The first two books in the Bootstrap trilogy were given to us by the author for review purposes.
UPDATE: Mauri Niininen responded to the review positively, thanking us for our honest feedback. We are looking forward to reading the last novel in the Bootstrap series, and watching him hone his writing style and improve as an author.
Going into the sci-fi book series Bootstrap, I was excited for the first alien encounter plot and the hard science twist. The prologue in the first book captured my attention and got me engaged. Some sort of alien hurtling towards earth through space in a string of photons millions and millions of miles long? Sounds like a gripping space adventure rife with conceivable, yet still mind-blowing, technological advancements, and enough human drama to entertain.
Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific accuracy or technical detail or both.
Unfortunately, I’m sorry to say this wasn’t the case. As soon as the prologue was over, the first book went downhill fast. The first 25% of the novel was spent transcribing a phone tree between a bunch of scientists at different observatories all over the world. When I say transcribing, I mean literally writing down the whole conversations of unrealistic dialogue with nearly nothing in between. For example, addressing the person you’re speaking to at the beginning of every sentence is unrealistic:
Hi Frank. This is Jim Taylor from Cornell University. It has been a while. Sorry for disturbing you so late.
Hi Jim. Nice to hear from you and thanks for hosting that nice dinner last spring in Ithaca…
Frank– we have found something very unusual going on…
Jim– I have some good news for you…
Thanks Frank – much appreciated.
No problems Jim.
The vast majority of these two novellas are composed of stilted, unnatural dialogue. Here are some more examples:
Hello James Rogers, I am Alexa. …
Are there other star systems in the network than where you came from Alexa?
How much do you know… Alexa?
James, I have a taxonomy of …
Alexa, can you explain…
James, having peaceful relationships…
Alexa, what kind of ideas…
James, I don’t have a full listing…
Alexa, how can we trust…
James, trust must be earned.
(I omitted the rest of the quotes as to not spoil anything, but you get the point.)
Literally, every conversation was like this over nearly 300 pages between the two books, and each quote was said “firmly” or “proudly,” though the lack of human emotion and relatable characters had me doubting that. The main character, Julia Koski, is completely 2D and not emotionally engaging, even though you follow her life for over 30 years, and watch her “suffer” through personal tragedy. I put suffer in quotations because we are told she’s sad, but never shown. Therein lies the biggest issue I had with the series; Bootstrap ignores every iteration of “show, don’t tell” I’ve ever heard in any writing class or workshop. It is not until partway through the second book that the main character is sparsely described as blonde and slender. Other than that, nearly no description was used at all, though we are told about some wondrous places and people that really should have been described.
A bootstrap loader is a program that resides in the computer’s EPROM, ROM, or other non-volatile memory.
Neck and neck with the lack of description for the biggest issue with the novellas was the lack of any real conflict. Yes, the author tries to imply there may be conflict eventually, but every problem the characters run into was peacefully and successfully resolved through convenient, though not compelling, forced plot changes. For example, (minor spoilers): Aliens send a message with a video of the 9/11 attacks and it’s implied they were behind it? Oh, they were just trying to get our attention. The Russians gained control over powerful intergalactic technology? It’s okay, we’ll team up with them and be friends. An alien AI gains control over every satellite, every cell phone, every government in the world? Don’t worry, they’re just trying to help. (Big spoilers!!) A planet housing over 9 billion people is told they must prepare for 4 billion refugees? Just kidding, they live at the bottom of the ocean so it’s totally fine. And there are so many more that if I continued to write them all, I would have written a full plot summary by the end of it.
The alien species is (unintentionally) named for a trendy boot style called Chukkas.
Another discrepancy I noticed was the turn from hard science fiction to… well, not so hard. Around the middle of the second book, we are introduced to the alien refugees that happen to be (SPOILERS?) giant squids with telepathic abilities. Because of their influence, the protagonists’ husband messes with his DNA by adding computer code to it, which somehow is hereditary and now their daughter is telepathic and can talk to dolphins, among other less-than-realistic things.
In addition to the story and dialogue issues, the text itself contained a noticeable amount of tense shifts and grammar errors, including basic things like punctuation and plurals. Two of my personal favorite examples of this include, “So if that was the good news, what are the bad news?” and “Dr. Griffith asked with puzzled face.”
I suppose I had a puzzled face myself a couple of times while wondering how the intriguing plot was unable to intrigue me. I admit to being interested by the storyline in the second book, and read rather quickly, but the aforementioned issues made it a struggle to get through. It was predictable and unrelatable and didn’t engage my emotions at all, not once. I truly am sorry to write such a negative review, because I really wanted to like this book, but not offering the most basic descriptions (What do the giant squids look like [color, texture, eye color, physical movement]? How do their salt-water filled spaceships work? What do their underwater lodgings look like? What do their above-water exoskeleton suits of armor look like? What do any of the characters look like?) was very, very hard to look past. I wish that the story and characters were more compelling because the ideas were excellent, but the execution was fatally bad. Even though the second book ends on a cliffhanger, I wasn’t given any motivation to read the third one when it comes out.
Overall, I have to give the first two entries in the sci-fi book series Bootstrap a 1.5 out of 5, to represent that the plot was interesting, but due to the other aspects mentioned, I would have had a hard time getting past the first 50 pages of the first book had I not been writing this for review purposes.
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