I recently finished reading The Rookie by best-selling horror writer Scott Sigler. I discovered the book through Mur Lafferty’s podcast I Should Be Writing. This was a significant departure for Sigler, not at all a horror story, and he self-published a limited edition. Mine is number 1122 out of 3000.
Like every writer that thinks he/she read a book before you did, I’m going to write a review.
In a future only a few hundred years away. football has become the intergalactic pass-time of all races. Teams are composed of players from all races, some fitting certain roles better than others (big races are linemen, fast races are receivers, humans get a lot of the multi-faceted roles). The book follows rookie quarterback phenom Quentin Barnes (QB the QB) through his journey from lowly Tier 3 ball to a Tier 2 team poised for a shot at Tier 1 (the system works similarly to Europe’s soccer leagues). Quentin battles his ignorance of and prejudices against the other races as he tries to earn a starting position and lead his team to the promised land.
To say that The Rookie has a formulaic story is to put things mildly. Young, arrogant talent comes to the big leagues and discovers he’s not half as good as he thinks he is, then tries to lead the team to victory. That’s only eighty percent of the sports movies ever made. But then, I was reading a sci-fi football book. What should I expect, War and Peace? The book delivers on its formula right up until the last game where I felt a bit let down. (I am resisting spoilers since there are two versions of the sports formula: victory and just-missed-but-we’re-better-for-the-run. This is one of those.) It wasn’t the result that disappointed me, rather the lack of suspense and mundane events that lead to that ending, specifically events that fail to hinge on the protagonist. You don’t expect Notre Dame’s success or failure to revolve around Rudy at the last second, but I did expect the Krakens’ to revolve around Quentin.
The alien races were nicely developed. I particularly liked the speedy Sklorno race that has made football into a religion and canonize exceptional athletes, especially quarterbacks. The Ki were intriguing but left too mysterious; I wanted Quentin to really connect with them. Maybe that was asking a bit much of a reluctant bigot like Quentin. The Quyth were probably the most developed and the least interesting, with an obvious caste system that dictated everything about their culture that wasn’t a criminal enterprise. And the ruling class of Creterakians was odd at best and distractingly trivial at worst. All that said, I was amused by the races and the story would fall apart without them.
I had a hard time sympathizing with Quentin in the middle third of the book. His thoughts were flawed in obvious ways, insisting people were trying to sabotage him when they were obviously trying to help him and getting way too tied up in his own ego. I like flawed characters, but it was very juvenile. But then, so was Quentin. The characterization goal was achieved without the subtlety I hoped for.
Other characters were considerably better sculpted, specifically Donald Pine, the veteran quarterback entering his decline. His flaws were integral to the plot, too, and their handling was similarly un-subtle — more abrupt than obvious. While on the subject of likable characters, Denver and Kill-O-Yowet were just starting to be interesting when the story veered away from them.
Now let’s discuss the book as a physical object. Very nice. The cover is very nice and the game program inside (with color art of the races, interviews, even advertisements) is awesome. It definitely helped to immerse me in the story and just made the ride more fun. The box scores and league updates after every game were neat, but they might have served better in the appendices with all the other excerts. Sigler’s autograph is nice. The one thing the book seemed to be missing was professional editing. Typos abounded, in some sections. one every other page. Breath instead of breathe, me instead of he, and on… Distracting but nothing I couldn’t work through. (It could be worse…someone could have omitted twenty-eight consecutive words.)
All in all, it was a pleasant book that I felt fit a Harry Potter-aged target audience (though Harry’s dilemmas were depicted more subtly). Simple, straight-forward plot with no major logical holes I noticed (other than the Krakens playing their first playoff game on the road). Most of the obstacles are predictable, as are the solutions (though not the juniper berries). Could it have been stronger? Sure. The Barnes-Pine conflict could have been less transparent early and Pine’s confession could certainly have used more pressure, and… It was a light read, but an enjoyable one.
- Plot: C
- Individual Characters: C-
- Character Races: A-
- Setting: A
- Packaging: A+
- Spelling: D
- Tilt: A
I understand that Sigler offered The Rookie as a free podcast. I feel like I overpaid for the book, but it’s a collector’s item. Who knows, it may be worth money when someone makes a movie out of it. (It would translate to the screen well, animated or live actors mixed with CGI.)