Book Review: Cry Pilot by Joel Dane
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Cry Pilot
Publisher: Ace Books (August 6, 2019)
Length: 416 pages
I wanted to like Cry Pilot, I really did. It’s been getting a ton of praise from other reviewers though, so I’m just going to be chalking this one up to another case of “it’s not the book, it’s me.” After all, military sci-fi can be such a tricky genre, and there were certain aspects of this one that that failed to make this one my cup of tea.
The novel transports readers to a bleak, future Earth devastated by large-scale war fought by dangerous, high-tech bioweapons. However, in order to terraform the planet in the wake of such appalling destruction, the clean-up process has also reawakened these biological horrors, now gone rogue. In response to this threat, the corporate military has turned to churning out legions of soldiers including a “cry pilots”, a specialized class of fighter trained to control AI-operated mecha-like machines designed to combat a new foe known as lampreys. It’s extremely dangerous, and casualty rates are high.
Our protagonist Maseo Kaytu is a cry pilot. Due to his past status as a refugee he is barred from joining the military, but being resourceful, he manages to find a way. Assigned to Group Aleph for basic training, he joins a squad of other outsiders and misfits as they prepare to be deployed for the battle to come. Living, training, and fighting together, Kaytu starts to grow close to his teammates in spite of himself, finding it more and more difficult to hide the truth of his past from them. But if they don’t survive the coming storm, none of it is going to matter anyway.
I’ll give the novel this—the story actually took a bunch of tired and overused futuristic dystopian tropes and turned it into something that had a fresh feel to it. I certainly loved the idea of ruined Earth littered with rogue bioweapons delaying the reconstructive efforts to save the planet. So, with such a cool and interesting premise, what went wrong? Well, I tend to be a “Characters First” kind of reader, so a lot comes down to the protagonist and whether or not I find them engaging. Maseo Kaytu was not, unfortunately. I was indifferent to his voice, which I found rather dry and depthless. Something also felt off about his relationships with his squad mates, but I can’t really put my finger on why. Although their interactions read fine on paper, often the relationships themselves felt lukewarm or forced and I was indifferent as to whether any of the characters will survive to the end of the book, which is always a bad sign.
Maybe the author’s style has something to do with it. He clearly has the writing chops and experience, Joel Dane being a pseudonym for a full-time author of more than twenty books according to the publisher profile. Personally though, I found his prose challenging and clunky, bogged down by military jargon and repetition. Dane never passes on a chance to describe in great detail (and at great length) any time a new piece of high-tech weaponry is brought up, which I’m sure hardcore military sci-fi fans would probably appreciate but it just made my eyes glaze over. I also have nothing against military academy stories and tropes, but I thought the basic training section dragged on for too long in this case. A good chunk of the book was over by the time we got to see any real action, and that was just a bit too much to take.
So to break things down, the positives of Cry Pilot included the heart-pounding action sequences and the battle scenes, impressive world-building, and a truly fascinating conflict involving some of the most unique and terrifying foes I’ve ever seen. But the negatives included the mediocre character development and a repetitive, drawn-out plotline that often struggled to hold my full attention. Bottom line, the bad outweighed the good, so unfortunately this will have to be relegated to the “not for me” pile. That said, I have a strong feeling this one will work a whole lot better for voracious fans of military science fiction, so if the premise sounds appealing, I would definitely recommend taking a closer look.