Citizen of Earth by Joseph J. Kassabian [Book Review]
There’s a lot to like in Citizen of Earth. Kassabian creates some really interesting characters, especially the protagonist Vincent Solaris and his main companion. The action is suitably chaotic, albeit well described. That said I did have some niggles, especially in the early part of the book. The characters take a lot of physical abuse in training, which seems to consist only of physical abuse and not of any training, even though the learning but is referred to later. There must have been some time jumps in the story, but these are only obvious when referred to much later. There’s also a Vietnam in SPAAACE vibe to it too, like the worst excesses of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. We get over it all though with the second half of the story. If anything there’s a great edit on the second quarter that would make it a proper five star story.
Citizen of Earth – classic science fiction
In reading it there’s a lot of the feel of the classic Science Fiction of the 50s and 60s. It also read in the same sort of way that John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series does (although quite different in approach). I finished the book in two days, so it was a really easy read.
The opening in a socialist utopia feels very Soviet, albeit set in Detroit. I’m sure this is totally deliberate. It’s slightly over the top, but it’s really just setting up the story. Vincent is a typical rebellious teen. He smokes, drinks and hangs out with his friends somewhere he isn’t supposed to. It’s enough to get him sentenced into military service when he gets caught.
The next section is the bit that worked the least for me. It could have done with some tightening up. In fairness the general idea is OK, Vincent is grouped with another bunch of convict conscripts, and the training is brutal. That much is fine. What is grating is they don’t seem to get any actual training, just punishing route marches. Yet when they get into the battle simulations they all know how to use their kit and fire the weapons and have a hazy grasp of tactics. It’s all presented as if there’s four or five days of constant action, rather than cutting ahead to the end of a few weeks of training interspersed with the awful moments.
What I liked about Citizen of Earth
It’s quite hard to say lots on this without spoilers. Once the main characters land on the alien planet it’s a brilliant story. The middle and the end are really strong.
There’s a world-view flip for Vincent when things go awry for the earth forces. He ends up working with several aliens and seeing how they’ve got their own problems. The picture he’d been fed was over-simplified, you can see Kassabian bringing his own experience from Afghanistan into this story. Not everyone over there is a ‘bad guy’. Even some of the people fighting against you aren’t doing so voluntarily.
The aliens are alien enough, yet also people. They’ve got different motives and objectives, and are internally divided enough to make plenty of conflict for the story, and also to add depth. It’s a good lesson in taking the time to see things as they are, rather than taking it at face value or believing what others tell you.
Verdict on Citizen of Earth
If anything Citizen of Earth appears to be a typical American moralistic story about the evils of socialism. What Citizen of Earth does is show that we need to think more for ourselves about the situation, and believe those in authority less. I think that’s a pretty awesome message.
I received an advance reading copy of Citizen of Earth from booksirens.