Jump Start

Correction added on 12/31/2003. My review contains a remark that implies that Mr. Carter's book is self-published. It is not. His book was published by Publish America, so it would be considered a small press publication.

Mark Twain, among others, is credited with ending a rather long letter to a friend with, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." Or something like that, anyway.

I have to make the same apology for my review of Gary Carter's Jump Start. I wanted to get this review done before the holidays, as Mr. Carter has waited forever for me to get my act together and read his book. I wasn't sure how to begin, so I used my old The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly format, and this is what came out, a 1500 word review. But I don't have the time to make it any shorter. Sorry.

The Gist: Jacob Malfusco's "career as a botanist had long ago dried up, and his career as a paleontologist had never gotten off the ground". That is, until he and his class from San Diego State have a weekend dig in Death Valley and uncover the bones of what can only be a dragon, a dragon that dates back a measly nine thousand years ago.

Marsha Kimbrough is a crack-pot archeologist with theories of space astronauts visiting the earth and being the cause of just about every unexplained phenomenon in earth's history: Stonehenge, the extinction of the mammoth, the pyramids, the extinction of the Neanderthals. She is taken seriously by few of her peers until she and her daughter discover what appears to be an Egyptian pyramid in the middle of the Australian desert.

Papalov Ulysses Darringer, an astronomer working out of Mt. Palomar, has discovered that the world is going to end when a meteor storm of epic proportions is going to smash the earth in less than a year.

When the meteors turn out to be dragon eggs, sent to earth because our planet is the equivalent of an interstellar smorgasbord, the two down-and-out-scientist-turned-celebrity-experts must help the president push back a plague of biblical proportions, as millions and millions of flying lizards start feeding on us natives.

The Good: To me, the idea that dragons are alien livestock, and that life on earth becomes feed for them periodically over the history of the planet, is fiendishly clever.

The author certainly has done some homework, as various objections that kept cropping up in my mind as I read the book were addressed and answered later on. Though I wouldn't call this book "hard" science fiction, he doesn't just tell the story the way he wants, while ignoring all the "hey, what about..." questions such a story creates. It is a bit grating to have the question floating around in your head from the beginning of the book, only to have it addressed near the end, but what are you going to do?

And I noticed in this book something that I have noticed in many of the first time author/self published books I've reviewed. The writing got noticeably better as the book went along. Clunky at the beginning, the writing became much smoother later on, with the exception of the last two chapters, which I'll get to later.

All in all, though I think the book is flawed, I wanted to keep reading. I wanted to see how the story ended, which is a lot more I can say about other books I've reviewed.

The Bad:

1. The Dialogue: When it comes to both books and movies, I'm a big, BIG dialogue freak. Give me Tarantino! Give me Kevin Smith! Give me Mamet, over and over and over again. Reading many first time authors, I've come to the conclusion that dialogue simply must be a difficult aspect of writing to learn, because many of these authors are quite bad at it.

The book begins and ends with exposition done in the "As you know Bob" tradition, where people stand around telling each other things they already know, so the reader is clued in to what's going on. Though Mr. Carter does not indulge in this hackneyed technique often, his characters do speak throughout the book in a stilted, unnatural way that sounds like it came off a keyboard.

2. Stupid protagonists: One of the keys to the plot working in the novel is that the dragons appear right out of the oceans one day, and start their feeding frenzy, and the whole world is completely taken by surprise.

But, the world is only taken by surprise because all of the world's governments and scientific institutions are full of idiots. When the dragon egg "meteors" were still a year out, the scientists knew that they were behaving in a way that simply wasn't natural, but no one seriously considered the idea that they might be guided. When the meteors, which were expected to be swallowed up in Jupiter's gravity well, split up, went around it, and regrouped on the other side, the scientists simply mumbled "weird meteors, ain't they?" Nobody seemed to entertain the idea that these might be guided objects till they landed on earth, and every single one of them went into the sea. Finally, people said, "hey, that ain't right," but they still don't take any measures to prepare the military or civilian population for a possible attack, or first contact.

I cannot believe that this would actually happen. If the world were actually under this kind of threat, there would be world meetings. Every single scientist remotely qualified would be consulted, and the suggestion that the objects were being guided would have been brought up and taken seriously from the start, and most countries would have started beefing up their militaries within the month.

3. Lack of Scope: Let me just say that if you have an end of the world novel, which is only one hundred seventy-seven pages long, you're leaving too much out. The book follows only Malfusco, Kimbrough, and Darringer as they advise the President, and drive home to San Diego. That, along with five to ten pages devoted to a little girl in Japan, is it. Though I think this would work in a movie or novella, there needs to be more for a novel. The book abounds with subplots that could have been, but weren't. There was not one international conference. No religious doomsayers. No increase in crime. No political ramifications. Is there nothing of interest going on at all in the world besides three scientists on a road trip from Colorado to California to look for Kimbrough's daughter, who's probably already dead?

4. Improbable science and scenarios:

a. Even with the existence of the human species at stake, I cannot believe it possible that within five months, a SUBTERRANEAN lunar colony is built, and a ship is sent to Mars, with the intent of setting up a colony there as well.

b. Human "intelligence" began about nine thousand years ago. One premise that provides the foundation of the book is that humans were "Jump Started" by aliens about nine thousand years ago, in order for the population to grow to the ridiculous size it has so there is lots of food for the next time the dragons are sent. This is Kimbrough's theory from the start, and events prove her theory correct. However, there is no real reason given in the books to believe the theory in the first place. Several times it is stated that human culture started all around the world at "around" the same time, but that's only true if you're willing to seriously dick around with the numbers.

The mammoths went extinct ten thousand years ago, or so we think. But what if it was really more like nine thousand? Neanderthals went extinct about thirty thousand years ago, but what if it was really thirty-six, or twenty-seven? It's not a big stretch to think that an event like the extinction of the mammoths, that current theory states happened ten thousand years ago (according to the book) actually happened only nine thousand years ago. However it isn't reasonable to believe that this same event occurred at the same time as events we believe to be six and a half or seven thousand years ago, like Stonehenge. In a timeline that is only nine or ten thousand years long, our scientists and historians have placed events that occur at the same time three thousand years apart? We can't be THAT far off. But these leaps are made to make this basic theory work, and only to make the theory work, with no proof given.

5. Chauvinism: All of the female characters are portrayed as emotionally weak in this novel. While the men are characterized as decisive, stoic, making the tough decisions, the women are characterized as overly sentimental, hysterical and distraught. The only people opposed to the president using excessive force, when all other options have been used up, are his female advisors, who have to be shouted down. Kimbough is insanely determined to reach San Diego. She knows the place is destroyed, and she has no reason to believe that her daughter is even there in the first place. But when stopped at a roadblock in Arizona, she yells at her husband not to be a wimp when a soldier stops them by pointing an M-16 at his chest. She wants to go home NOW! Good Lord.

6. Anti-climatic ending: The world is doomed. The dragons are overrunning the world; the alien spacecrafts are on their way. This is it--don't get scared.

And then... the book ends a little disappointingly.

And finally, the ugly: This alone almost made me put the book down around page forty or so.

What do the U.S.'s top astronomers advise the President to do when it looks like the earth is going to be smashed into oblivion? Put a colony on the moon that faces away from the meteor shower. It should be safe from impact cause the moon doesn't rotate, you see.

The moon doesn't rotate?

Oh. My. God.

I feel a bit flummoxed when it comes to rating this book. I enjoyed reading it, I don't deny that, but the entire time I'm also thinking how much better it could be. Since I'm torn down the middle, I'll tear the rating down the middle as well.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Jump Start by Gary Carter
Published by: PublishAmerica; October 2003
ISBN: 0765307669
Genre: Science Fiction
Author's Webpage: http://www.garycarter-ent-jumpstart.com/index.htm

About Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy succumbed to leiomyosarcoma on April 1, 2007. The irony of this is not lost on any who knew him and laughed with him. He was the first “official” book reviewer for The Dragon Page Radio Talk Show, and after moving to Arizona, he became a frequent contributor to Cover to Cover, Wingin’ It, Slice of SciFi and co-host of Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas.

He will be missed.

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