Self-published author Chris Kennedy kicks off his “Theogony” trilogy with “Janissaries”, the story of how aliens who almost conquered Earth and eventually became the Titans of Greek myth return for a second attempt and are thwarted by another race of aliens who don’t believe in killing and therefore get humans to do it for them.
There’s an old saying in the literary world, “Show, don’t tell”, meaning rather than directly explain a situation or backstory, it’s more effective when an author conveys information through character behavior, hints via dialogue, secrets unraveled throughout the course of the plot, etc. This technique, while time consuming for any writer, is far more rewarding for the reader as it results in something to look forward to, reasons to continue investing time and emotion in the people and circumstances that make up a story. This process of unearthing knowledge alongside the main characters makes for a more fulfilling and enriching experience.
It’s also something Chris Kennedy has yet to discover.
“Janissaries” is an alien invasion story that may have promise in the right hands, but a quick read of just the back cover is enough to reveal the writer’s inadequacies:
“The war with China was over and Lieutenant Shawn ‘Calvin’ Hobbs just wanted his life to go back to normal. The hero of the war, he had a small ream of paperwork to fill out, a deployment with his Navy F-18 squadron to prepare for, and a new girlfriend to spend some quality time with. Life was good.
Until the aliens showed up.
They had a ship and needed to get to their home planet, but didn’t have a crew. They had seen Calvin’s unit in action during the war, though, and knew it was the right one for the job. There was just one small problem-a second race of aliens was coming, which would end all life on earth. Calvin’s platoon might want to do something about that too.
Having already won a terrestrial war with 30 troops, winning an interstellar war with nothing but a 3,000 year old star cruiser should be easy, right?
‘Janissaries’ initiates ‘The Theogony,’ a trilogy that will take Lieutenant Hobbs and his Special Forces platoon to the stars. It will also show them that there’s much more to Earth’s history than is written in the history books!”
This is but a small taste of the mountains of exposition, poorly developed characters, awkward wording, and laughable plot developments that make up “Janissaries.” In just a 194-word summary, Kennedy manages to use the word ‘war’ four times, misplace a comma or two, and somehow makes all three paragraphs a mouthful.
If that wasn’t enough, we know what to expect after the riveting first line of the Prologue: “I may never finish all this paperwork”, uttered by Hobbs himself. In the next three pages, we’re informed that America had just won a war against China, Lieutenant Hobbs was instrumental in winning said war, we meet Master Chief Ryan O’Leary, who’s entire character is encompassed in a single “I don’t like authority” quirk, and aliens arrive claiming to need Calvin’s help. All in three pages.
Two reasons why you don’t open a book like this:
1) The purpose of a prologue is to set the tone and wet the reader’s appetite. Being a small taste of what’s to come, it’s usually not a good idea to introduce major plot points or characters as those require time to develop and convey.
2) This is why a prologue typically features a small or expendable character or characters who stumble upon a hidden something or are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and witness a drastic turn of events that isn’t completely explained, but is described in just enough detail to give us a clue as to what the stakes are and, more importantly, makes us want to find out what happens next.
One thing to be said for Chris Kennedy, he wastes no time in telling us exactly what happens in every scene. The President owes Calvin a favor for saving the country and agrees to meet with him in secret. What follows is an entire chapter of explanation with zero emotional backdrop: Calvin’s girlfriend has zero reaction to the President of the United States walking through her front door, the president has no reaction to aliens standing right in front of him, no one wonders how these beings speak English, no one cares that all of our myths and legends are based on extraterrestrial beings who set foot on our planet in the past, and everyone is indifferent to the fact that alien vampire frogs (yes, you read that correctly) are on their way to kill us. This is interspersed with further explanations of other alien races, alien ships, and excessive backstory, all written in Kennedy’s emotionless, word mashing style and all shoved within a single chapter!
I hate to be so negative, as there are some nice touches scattered throughout the prose, such as a war hero being bogged down with paperwork, with special emphasis on the next of kin letters he’s dreading having to write. That’s not something we see much of in any fictional war piece. On that same note, the President, while grateful that Calvin saved the country, is upset that he sold his story to the media for a lot of money. However, Hobbs only cashed in so that he could build a memorial to the troops he lost. Kennedy also makes the military vernacular sound legit. Any dialogue regarding combat tactics, military vehicles, and anything of that ilk comes across as natural and confident.
Unfortunately, the bad more than outweighs the good in “Janissaries.” The lost opportunities to build character and atmosphere are too numerous to count. Never once does Kennedy slow down and let the reader experience what is occurring or give us a chance to become familiar with the heroes we’re supposed to be invested in. He simply plows through every scene in order to get to the next cool idea that probably sounded a lot cooler before he wrote it down. By page 25, I felt as if someone had taken a hammer, written “THIS IS WHAT’S HAPPENING!!” on it in bright, obnoxious letters, and proceeded to slam me over the head with it for the next 300 pages. He could benefit from a thesaurus too.
The Bottom Line:
An editor at a self-publishing company is only glancing through a piece for obvious grammatical errors. He’s not looking for areas to make the story flow better or paragraphs that could be taken out or rearranged as happens in a professional publishing house, and it shows in Kennedy’s work. Picking up a self-published book is always a risk, one that can just as easily pay off. In the case of Janissaries, however, it’s not worth it. – 3.0/10
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine
I have actually read JANISSARIES and I have to say it was horrible. Went into it thinking it would be some cool sci-fi but turns out it was just a huge David Weber ripoff.