Book Review – Tracer [Outer Earth #1]

2 stars.  “ZOMG Parkour on a Space Station with the Survival of the Human Race at stake!!!”  Rob Boffard’s Tracer is set in Outer Earth, a rapidly decaying station orbiting our home planet laid waste by nuclear war.  Riley Hale is a tracer–one who couriers cargo throughout the station.  But today’s delivery lands her chin-deep in a plot to end the ragtag remnants of the human race.  Can she save us?

The primary problem with Tracer is that the focus is on detailed play-by-play of events rather than the story or the characters.  Parkour moves are recounted in exquisite detail:

Five seconds later, I collide painfully with the wall of the shaft.

I bounce right off, flying across the gaping centre of the tube towards the opposite wall. I flip my body around in the air, so my legs are facing the wall.

This time, instead of smashing into it, I let my legs take the impact, then push upwards, launching my body up the shaft. Not hard enough. I shoot out a few feet, and then the wall catches up with me. I bend my legs again, then push upwards even harder. This time, I propel myself into the middle of the shaft.

(Incidentally, a practitioner of parkour is a traceur or a traceuse, in case the title needs explanation.)

tracerInjuries are similarly recounted in full detail–and do the denizens of Outer Earth ever get cut, shot, beaten up, stabbed, suffocated, frozen, injected, bitten, and more!  Often it felt like injury porn.

The climactic scene of Riley in the control room bogs down in the minutia of her going through menus on a computer system, tapping an option, reading an error message, searching for the menu to correct that, repeat.  Riveting stuff. (It’s a UNIX system, I know this!)

The “bad guys” are mostly shallow and unbelievable, and are ultimately foolish.  Oren Darnell is the ringleader of the plot to end humanity as punishment for destroying the Earth.  How to do it?  Place the space station in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death, of course!  Not to mention the “you’re about to die, so here is the wicked plan you cannot possibly stop now, MUWAHAHA!” segment at the end from one of his cohorts…

Darnell at least is the most fun and interesting character in the book, and has a sound motivation for doing what he’s doing.  His co-conspirators (I won’t name them here to avoid spoilers), not so much.  I can’t discern any reason they have to join Darnell, other than to fulfill the “Things Are Not What They Seem” and “Inevitable Betrayal of a Trusted Friend” roles.

Riley herself is a plot trope–she seems like just another occupant of Outer Earth, but really who she is and the secrets of her past makes her the only one who can save us all!!!  If Darnell had a modicum of common sense, task #1 on his checklist titled How to Blow Up Outer Earth and Save the Wrecked Planet by Destroying What’s Left of Humanity would have been to eliminate Riley Hale.  The rest of his dastardly plot would have gone down without a hitch.  Instead, he involves her in the events repeatedly, because, well, I guess there wouldn’t have been parkour to talk about without her… ?  It’s clear that all involved knew who she was, so it was rather stupid to have her play a role in their plot.  Heck, had they simply ignored her, it probably would have been lights out for homo sapiens!

The plot twists are rather silly, and in the case of the final one, so melodramatic that any emotional impact it might have had is lost.

Changing point of view narration works occasionally, but is far too often jarring and provides no added insight, as is the case here.  It’s even more jarring when the POV switches between Riley’s first-person voice and third-person limited for everyone else.  This would have been a stronger book had it been told only from Riley’s POV, or better yet, Darnell’s.

The world of Outer Earth is so shallow that it felt only matte painting deep.  Kudos to Boffard for avoiding a big info-dump, but his world felt like a collection of random details that serve only as backdrop rather than a compelling environment that a derelict space station should be.

Ultimately, Tracer reads like a movie script, words without life behind or around them.  Perhaps it was written to be made into a movie.  There is a sequel, but I do not believe that I shall read more of Outer Earth.

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