Review re-post: 'Outriders' by Jay Posey
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
Military sci-fi with great team dynamics
[This review from a few years ago is re-posted from my previous Reanne Reads blog. I've since picked up the second in the series, though I haven't read it yet. Looking forward to re-reading this one and reading book two at some point.]
I enjoy the interactions between Lincoln and his team. The team dynamic is really at the center of the story, and it works well to hold everything together. As individuals, we don’t really learn a whole lot about any of them, but they seem real anyway. These aren’t one-dimensional placeholders. While this is still a plot-driven story and so there’s not a whole lot of character development, the individuals still felt like well-rounded people. Like just because we don’t know all these personal details about them and their past doesn’t mean that those details don’t exist and inform who they are. It was very easy to like everyone on this team and hope for them to succeed.
This story is very respectful toward soldiers while being critical of the decisions of military leaders—particularly the type of decisions where such leaders use “sacrifices must be made” to explain why they knowingly allowed the enemy to murder numerous civilians and lower-ranking military personnel when they could have prevented it.
To be honest, I found it a little hard to follow the overall plot. Whenever the team was on a mission, I often found myself wondering what they were doing and why. I attribute this mostly to the fact that I don’t usually read military sci-fi and also the narrator’s extremely low-key way of speaking (more on that below). And there isn’t a clear break point between sections, where it’s switching from one location/character to another. In a paper book, I’d expect there’d be a space or something to indicate these shifts, but in the audio there’s nothing. This becomes a particularly large problem late in the book, when you really have to pay attention to character names and see who’s mentioned to figure out when the scene shifts happen. And as another reviewer pointed out, the author has a tendency to use three-letter acronyms for the different groups and other things, and he defines them once, right when he first mentions them, and then never again and you’re expected to remember what they all mean.
This book does diversity right. That is, it has a pretty good male/female balance to the cast, and it’s more than usually ethnically diverse without making a big deal of that fact. Characters are who they are. The focus is on their personality and relationships with others. Their ethnicity and gender are mentioned with no more significance than hair or eye color. In my opinion, that’s exactly how it should be done—particularly in genres like this, where those things are not a core focus of the story. In a romance, obviously gender’s going to be a bigger deal. In a military sci-fi, I really enjoy just letting the world be a place where gender is a total non-issue and gender equality is status quo, so no one really needs to mention it at all. There’s no pointless sexism and no women fighting to prove they’re just as good as men at being soldiers. No one even questions that they are. It’s totally accepted and normal. Which is way more fun for me to read than the Strong Women Fighting Against Sexism books. Pretty much ditto on ethnicity. People look different, they have different types of names, and that’s basically end of story. Nobody cares one way or the other. People are judged on the content of their character, their actions and choices, not even a little bit on what they look like or who their ancestors were. I hope other authors take note. This is how you do diversity. (I know some people would disagree with me on this. Those people are wrong.)
This narrator is one that I don’t think I’ve heard before. He has a nice voice. He speaks in a way that’s not exactly slow or lazy, just . . . unhurried. It’s a calm, soothing voice. The voice of a doctor with a particularly good bedside manner. Or maybe a priest. Or a therapist. It’s the kind of voice you expect to say, “Everything’s going to be okay,” and you’d believe it. Which makes him kind of an odd choice for a military sci-fi story. He doesn’t bring any excitement to the narration at all. Everything is read in a calm, measured way, even death and shooting and devastating explosions. He also doesn’t do different voices for the characters or reach very far for different inflections. It’s a strange case. He’s got a very nice voice and reads clearly and understandably . . . but he doesn’t do any of the things I expect from a narrator reading a novel. He’d be very good for some sort of non-fiction probably, or even for a certain type of novel, but he wasn’t a very good choice for this novel, I think. There are also many points where you can hear him making wet mouth noises (the kind that are usually edited out), which, aside from sounding kind of gross, really bring attention to the fact that you’re listening to a guy reading the story, taking the focus away from the story itself and damaging immersion. All in all, I hope they hire a better narrator for future books in this series, one who’ll bring the more dynamic performance which this story deserves.
If the other books in this series were already out, I’d move right on to them. Since they’re not, I’ll try to remember to notice when they come out, but I’m afraid I may not, and even if I do I’ll probably forget a lot of what was going on between now and then (this is an unfortunate consequence of putting books out as the author writes them rather than more or less all at once). I would recommend it to people who enjoy military sci-fi. This book isn’t really hard-core military or sci-fi (in terms of excessive jargon and such), so I found it pretty accessible even as someone who doesn’t read that genre much. I do think I’d have enjoyed it more in paper, though.